Michael Calise: South Beach Improvement Plan Should Be Heard Later

Alert “06880” reader — and longtime keep-the-beach-as-it-is advocate — Michael Calise writes:

The Recreation Commission has a meeting scheduled for tomorrow (Wednesday, August 17, 7:30 p.m., Town Hall Room 201/201A.)

Item #7 on the agenda item says: “To take such action as the meeting may determine to approve a request for an appropriation for design and engineering services for the south beach walkway and south beach restrooms at Compo Beach.”

It is obvious that the plan which was so soundly rejected by most Westporters is being implemented by the commission in stages. I am surprised they are holding a meeting in August, when many people are away, when most other meetings are not scheduled at all, and that this item is far down the agenda.

Further, grouping a walkway with a South Beach bathroom clouds the issue, as most people feel differently about each.

Our beach is a great natural treasure enjoyed by many. It is not begging to become a park!

The public deserves the right to participate in these discussions at a later time and with more notice. I hope those who have an interest in the future of Compo will attend this meeting to impress on the commission to leave the hearing open for its September meeting, in order to give the public a greater opportunity to participate and comment.

I asked Parks and Recreation Commission chair Charlie Haberstroh for a comment. He replied:

“The appropriation is for design and engineering services, not for the construction. There will be plenty of open meetings to discuss the eventual design and construction. We are anxious to get the ball rolling. This is just the start of the process.”

Westport's Recreation Commission may vote on appropriating money for a walkway and restrooms at South Beach on Wednesday.

The Parks and Recreation Commission may vote on appropriating money for the design and engineering of a walkway and restrooms at South Beach on Wednesday.


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25 responses to “Michael Calise: South Beach Improvement Plan Should Be Heard Later

  1. Thomas Orofino

    Charlie, start the process in the light of day. Changes to Compo Beach are changes to folks use current and future use of this town treasure and should 100% transparent.

  2. Joyce Bottone

    Thanks for keeping us Informed. I will try to be there

  3. Alan Phillips

    Charlie
    Thanks for thinking out of the box and polishing the jewel.
    The initial walkway is awesome as well as the gravel walkway near the marina. the last leg will make walking compo beach a pleasure.

  4. Bart Shuldman

    If I read this right-we are not just starting to talk about this project, instead, we are going to approve money for:
    “The appropriation is for design and engineering services,

    In addition, why spend money on design and engineering services if the town has not had open dialogue on what design and construction service are needed right now. Should we not start with what the town wants first?

    Why ‘get the ball rolling’ and spend money before a the town residents give their input (which in fact they did but you are moving forward anyway).

    Spending money says you are beginning the project. Having a quick meeting during the summer holiday period speaks to something.

  5. Michael Calise

    Contrary to what we are being told, the process has already begun on August 11 a Bid Request was posted for design services for a sidewalk around the remainder of the beach and a building to “house restroom facilities” The specific wording is “The Town of Westport is interested in Constructing” There is also a map posted with this bid request showing a walkway across the South Beach picnic area. It is clear that the commission has made up its mind and is not interested in public input.

    • Bart Shuldman

      Charlie. If Michael is right about the bid package-can you explain what you said. If companies are bidding the work-then how do you say you are open to discussion? Something does not ‘taste’ good here but maybe you can provide us an answer to help us all understand this:

      “The appropriation is for design and engineering services, not for the construction. There will be plenty of open meetings to discuss the eventual design and construction. We are anxious to get the ball rolling. This is just the start of the process.”

  6. Charlie Haberstroh

    This is not a “quick meeting in August”. In all the discussions which were held in open meetings over a year ago there was overwhelming support for (1) permanent rest rooms on Compo Beach South and (2) a pathway around the whole beach. Those of you who are aware of the process in town government will appreciate that no specifics can be discussed without first getting the design and engineering studies done. The rest rooms and walkway designs were not specifically addressed in the original Compo Beach Improvement Committee studies, so it needs to be done before we can have a meaningful and substantial town discussion.

    • I believe you, Mr. Haberstroh, are incorrect in saying there was ‘overwhelming support’ . Most of the people at that meeting which was packed with concerned Westporters were saying exactly the opposite. Also, where are myriad signed petitions that were handed to the Parks and Rec Commission that evening which have mysteriously disappeared and were against the plan? Jen Fava, the town clerk and P & Z do not have them.
      You also said then that the public would have ‘plenty of time’ to comment on the sidewalks already installed. Your previous comment was false. Actions speak louder than words!

    • Bart Shuldman

      i decided to look into the beach issues as this has been discussed for almost 1.5 years. The issues that have been highlighted here are really not an issue.

      First, sidewalks were out in the east beach which have been very successful and helpful in Westport. P&Z was given the ok to look at a design for sidewalks on the south beach in concert to what was already accomplished. In addition there has been demand for bathrooms around the south beach.

      What these bids are for Parks & rec to understand the costs to first design and then build what the town decided was wanted. There will be no change in car flow or direction. Just sidewalks and potential bathrooms.

      But in order to understand the costs for the design, you have to ask for bids. And that is what I believe is happening. No money can be spent until the BofF and probably the RTM gets involved. But costs need to be known before anything moves forward.

      The new sidewalks on the east beach are wonderful. Those that need a more even surface be have the opportunity to walk near the beach. Cars can still park at the beach.

      It is now time for Parks and Rec to gather the information needed to look at the next phase of Compo. Clearly the installation of some
      Type of walk at Soith beach would be great-but the costs to design is needed before anything can happen. Same with bathrooms.

      And then there will be more meetings to approve any expense.

      While some might not want any change to Compo (clearly we read this a lot about any change in Westport)! Adding a walk can only improve our beach and be beneficial to those that need a better surface.

      Again, after looking into this matter and going back in time to all the meetings, this was suppose to happen next, even though there will always be those that are just against it. No matter how small the group is.

      • Michael Calise

        Bart,
        You are usually pretty proficient with facts but you are way off this time. The P & Z has not reviewed or approved any plans or ideas for the Beach, In fact they are not pleased with the manner the Rec Commission has ignored the normal process of site plan review. Also it amazes me how quickly we can ignore the fact that thousands have walked around the beach for decades without problems of any kind. There are areas on south beach which can not accommodate a sidewalk without seriously disrupting or eliminating the activities that occur there.

        • Bart Shuldman

          Michael. Thank for your reply.

          I understand there is no design. What they are proposing is to get ‘quotes’ for a design. If the town moves forward, they need to understand the cost for the design, then approve that cost, then if approved, get a design and then get approval for the construction. The process seems to make sense to me.

          I also congratulate the Parks and Rec for the new sidewalks on the east beach. Despite concern, it has turned out to be very good, nicely constructed and helpful to those that need a walkway. I know people do not like change but this added to the beach-of course just my opinion.

          Being someone who uses the BBQ’s (known for some great summer parties at the beach) I look forward to real bathrooms on south beach. The Porto potties are disgusting.

        • Elizabeth Thibault

          I would make one small exception to this. I walk at the beach and Longshore several mornings per week, and I routinely dodge cars. It’s especially bad along the South beach after the gravel walkway ends, because this is where drivers seem to want to check their phone the most. If we’re considering how the sidewalk extension was performed at the main beach, it has no impact on the parking or view, and is much safer for all of us. If this is the intent, then it’s not something that should be discounted out of hand.

  7. When you have to you have to go.. and walk..Improve/expand the bathrooms already at the marina. No additional bathrooms are needed. Its just as long of a walk from South beach to the Marina as it is from the end of the beach at the Soundview Dr. Hillspoint Road intersection back to a rest room.

  8. I’m confused. How do you ” approve a request for an appropriation for design and engineering services for the south beach walkway and south beach restrooms at Compo Beach” unless you already know how much you need for this appropriation? Or, will the town simply approve a carte blanche check and then allow the contractor to use as much as s/he wants? Or does the town already have a proposal? For the latter, that would mean that the folks in town did not have a say in how their tax dollars would be spent if, in fact, the people in town voted overwhelmingly last year to shoot down construction at the beach.

    All of this is reminiscent of the Downtown “renewal” plan where “input” was solicited from interested parties but nearly none was used in the actual Bedford Square project. In fact, the latest website for the Elm Street “swap” (Dan’s column from last week) looks eerily similar to the design of the website that the Downtown Planning Committee used when espousing the benefits of construction that has caused me and many others to stay away from the Main Street area for the past several months.

    Last, how would construction be funded? Out of town reserves? Or, if they intend to raise the money through a debt issue, then there could be some rationale to force construction plans ahead of any Fed interest rate increases. But, if that would be the case, then it should be made clear to the people who live here what the future impact on taxes from the debt servicing might be.

    The increasing lack of transparency of spending for capital improvements in this town is starting to get worrisome especially when taxes were supposed to stay the same but, oh, at the last minute, a 10% surprise increase came in the mail. I get worried when our Police Department needs a gofundme page to pay for a patrol dog who will be invaluable to our community yet we randomly and clandestinely spend $20k for a plan for the high school that had been redeveloped only 3-4 years ago. With Malloy’s cut to the education budget, wouldn’t it be prudent to rethink and reprioritize town projects at this time rather than approve appropriations (while residents are away for the summer) that could spur further large expenditures?

    In light of finite resources, perhaps we need a town referendum regarding which priorities residents feel are necessary.

  9. Charlie Haberstroh

    Mr. Buffinton,
    There were at least 3 public meetings on the sidewalks on the East Beach: Parks and Rec. Commission, Board of Finance and RTM, as well as the subcomittees of the RTM. I am happy to respond to individual concerns and comments at haberstroh.prc@gmail.com and invite you and any other interested parties to the August 17th meeting which is at 7:30 pm in 201/201A at Town Hall.

  10. don l bergmann

    I have provided to Charlie and Jen Fava my thoughts as to what should occur at South Beach. I suggest all who are interested do the same, whether by e mail or by speaking at the meeting on Wednesday.
    Don Bergmann

  11. All I have to say is poor Jen Fava….welcome to Westport!

  12. My name is Dee Chapman maybe you met me when the Town of Westport spent $50,000 to hire an architectural firm to design a master plan at Compo Beach. I handed out flyers about changes being implemented in the plan that would effect the way we all use Compo Beach. At the time I might have asked you to sign a petition to keep all the parking along the waters edge, to continue to be able to pull up on the sand on the South side of Compo Beach and to keep the beach as natural as possible, and yes to keep the skate park for the children of Westport.
    A year has passed since I handed in 1200 petition signatures at a standing room only town meeting and I want to update you on a recent development, tonight Parks & Recs is having a public meeting at Town Hall 110 Myrtle Ave Westport Conn. at 7:30pm
    It’s regarding adding a bathroom where the porta potty is now. Which we would probably all agree is a good thing.
    They also want to continue the new sidewalk around to the South side of Compo Beach. Which means if this happens you will NOT be able to park on the sand to watch a sunrise or a sunset, or unload your provisions, or maybe you use the South beach to launch your paddle board, kayak, wind surfer, go kiteboarding, these are just some of the things that make the South side very active, another reason why is its wind specific for launching small crafts and if a 8 foot walk way with a guard rail is placed around the peninsula it will be obtrusive and a hindrance while at the same time taking away from the natural Compo beach which we all love.
    Since getting involved as a concerned citizen of Westport I ran for RTM and won Thanks to district 8 (Coleytown area) and now sit on Park & Rec. committee, employee compensation and planning & zoning. I am proud to represent the residents of Westport.
    If you would like your opinion to be heard please show up tonight at town hall or continue to write on 06880 or write me at lovecompobeach@gmail.com
    Dee Chapman

    • Since Compo Beach is owned by all of Westport residents and we all have different needs and wants how about if such walk way extension if approved is on the inside of the South Beach roadway. If it stops short of the last crossroad before the kayaks place an opening on the gravel walk way. The residents that wish for South Beach to stay the same get the views and ambience that South Beach currently gives and the group that wants to walk on a sturdy walkway but may not want to walk on the street get what they want. The restroom issues shouldn’t be attached to the walk way issue. I wish I could take credit for this , but a north of 80 year suggested this as we discussed South Beach. FYI she was in the camp of sand under my feet all the time.

    • Bart Shuldman

      Dee. Thank you for all your work on this issue and being in the RTM.

      I again looked into this matter and do not believe we will lose the parking at south beach. The walkway that might be built will be inside the railing not outside. Cars will be able to park as we do today at south beach for the fun BBQ allowed.

      In regards to the boat ramp area, I cannot see the town adding a walkway that would hinder boats and other water devices from entering the Sound. Wth the meeting today, hopefully this all gets cleared up.

      Again, thanks for all you do and your concern for Compo. It is our jewel.

  13. Personally, I think cars belong in parking lots.

    Pulling cars away from the beach area adds, rather than diminishes the natural beauty of the shoreline. Pulling cars away from the beach area also improves the safety of pedestrians, bikers and strollers who would no longer have to dodge cars that are backing out – some more judiciously than others. Yes, it will require a longer schlep to get one’s picnic from the car to the picnic table. I suspect accommodations will be made to facilitate the launching of small craft. Safety first. Preservation of the shoreline, second. Convenience will have to follow.

  14. Rebecca Wolin

    Unfortunately both myself and my husband are away on business this week and not able to attend the meeting, but I do not like the idea of a walkway on the south beach. If people really want (and I don’t know who does) a walkway why don’t they put one on the other side of the road behind the wood railing. This way there will be a walk way to the bathroom, the skate park, it would take away 1 parking spot per row –

    After 20 + years in Westport I never heard of anyone getting hit by a car at the beach. We use the beach 12 months a year – during the warm months we picnic each weekend and during the cooler months I walk my dog there every week.

    Why can’t they do well enough alone. The parks and rec committee is appointed – not elected – I wonder if they had to run for their position if they would be elected. How about not spending money just to spend it!

    Rebecca Bruno and Thomas Bruno

  15. Charlie Haberstroh

    Just to be clear, there are no plans to eliminate the parking on south beach. Those who use it know that the beach is very narrow. The question is how and where we might put a walkway on South Beach and how and where we might put the restrooms instead of the now 4 porto sans. The proposal tonight is for an appropriation for design and engineering services in relation to a walkway on the south beach and for public restrooms at South Beach. That way the P & R Commission, the P&Z (assuming the PRC approves), probably the Conservation Dept (assuming the PRC and P&Z approve), the Board of Finance (assuming the PRC, P&Z and Conservation approve), the RTM and its committees (ssuming the PRC, P&Z, Conservation and BOF approve) and the Board of Selectman (assuming the PRC, P&Z, Conservation, BOF and RTM approve) have to approve the plans and appropriation. AND all those meetings will NOT occur at the same time and will not occur TONIGHT. Those of you who are interested are invited to any and all meetings to participate or just listen.

  16. Charlie Haberstroh

    Oh and by the way, one of the issues if we have a walkway is how to deal with the West end of Compo and “connect” the walkways. I assure you the Commission is very aware of how West Beach is used and the boat launching necessities.