[OPINION] Parks & Rec: Give Former Residents A (Beach) Break!

Mark and Jan Marcus lived in Westport for nearly 60 years. Both were involved in nearly every facet of the community: volunteer work, politics, religion.

For example, Mark served on the Board of Selectmen, was vice chair of the Planning & Zoning Commission, and a member of the Westport Charter Revision Committee and Board of Assessment Appeals.

As 3rd Selectman, he helped establish a policy with the Parks & Recreation Department that provided free swim lessons for every Westport child.

Jan was a justice of the peace. She sang in the Saugatuck Congregational Church choir, was a member of the Democratic Town Committee and Democratic Women of Westport, and volunteered in every town election from 1962 — when she and Mark married — through the mid-2000s.

After Mark — a 1958 Staples High School graduate — died in 2020 at 79, Jan had  to sell her home. She moved closer to her daughter and son-in-law — both Staples grads — who live elsewhere in Fairfield County.

She asks: “Is it true that non-residents have to pay $700 for a beach parking sticker?”

No, that’s not true.

It’s actually $775.

In 2018, Mark Marcus took this photo. It shows years of his family’s beach stickers.

The other day, Jan wrote to me:

“I am heartbroken. As a died-in-the-wool Westporter yourself, you know how being able to drive to Compo or Burying Hill to park and look at the Sound, or walk, or sit at a picnic table with a sandwich from Gold’s is embedded in the fabric of your being.

“To me, it does not seem right that someone who was so much a part of the town, and who like Mark, gave so much in public service to our community, is required to pay the same high price for access to the beaches that is paid by a non-resident with no connection to Westport, who just wants to get into the beaches.

“Is there something ‘06880’ could do to influence the Parks & Recreation Commission to establish a lower price for former residents? I, and I’m sure others like me, would be deeply appreciative.”

Unfortunately, “06880” has no magic wand. If I did, this would be a great reason to wave it.

Fortunately though, we do have our “Comments” section. How about it, readers: Does Jan’s idea have merit?

Is there — ethically and legally — a way to grandfather (and grandmother) in former residents?

And on a related note, what about charging them — or anyone — without a sticker a lower rate after, say, 5 p.m., for all the sunset lovers out there?

Click “Comments” below. Please use your real name. If it’s relevant, let us know how long you’ve been going to the beach.

And whether you still can.

Who doesn’t love a Compo Beach sunset? (Photo/Lauri Weiser)

42 responses to “[OPINION] Parks & Rec: Give Former Residents A (Beach) Break!

  1. Bruce Fernie SHS 1970

    Sadly we all know that’s not how the world works… If I stop paying the dues at my CC I can’t play there anymore and Westport Property taxes are the reduced dues to the towns beach club. I grew-up at Compo and Burying HillI but had to stop going in season when we no longer lived in Westport. I suggest a crowd funding event or just ask you children to pay your out of towner dues… I’m sure they enjoyed Westport beaches on your ‘dime’ many times.

  2. Not to worry. By next year, as 15 units per acre occupy every vacant (and some not vacant) lots within half mile of RR station, all comers will be allowed to park at all beaches in CT with no differential in parking fees.

  3. I am almost 73 and have lived and been going to the beach in Westport for 25 years — so definitely a Johnny-come-lately. Though I do get up early. I moved here because of the beach, among many reasons. I think Jans should definitely have a beach pass, and I would be happy to buy her one myself.

    But we all know Compo, at least, now often feels over-crowded in the summer, and any policy that would allow more people on it would make that worse. Same reasoning behind more non-resident sunset lovers.

    We also know (though perhaps it’s changed) that non-residents can take a taxi from the train station or wherever, be dropped at the pick-up zone (which before cell phones had an SNET pay phone right there to order a return ride) and be on the beach for free. The fee is for cars, not for people. I am against anything making it any easier for non-residents than that.

    Selfish and morally indefensible I know, but the world is increasingly becoming a competition for scarce resources of all sorts. And this resource is ours. Let the state argue about what its taxes should buy at our beaches. We should not be helping them to throw it open to all.

  4. I also love Compo. I paid the high fee for a few years. I paid the much higher fee from when it was established until the pandemic. Then I borrowed my parent’s SUV to drive to the beach. Then I drove someone else’s SUV home. I’m not saying there should be a lower fee for former residents. I’m just suggesting that every law can have unintended consequences…

  5. I am a Staples Grad who moved my business to town, but, I live in a neighboring town. I love Compo and frequently visit in the off-season. As a volunteer, I helped build the playground in 1989(ish). I’d love to be able to take my beach chair and enjoy Compo in the summer— but at $775 I can’t justify it.

    Maybe a discount for business owners who grew up in town and pay some Westport taxes too?

    I have beaches in the town where I live— but I don’t feel the same connection I do to Compo. I completely understand the need to limit parking decals and that people living in town have every right to exclude… I just wish it were different.

    Maybe Evan Stein has more room in the SUV?

  6. Jonathan Prager

    A little bit of thoughtfulness can go a long way.

    Why not establish a process by which long time residents may apply for the privilege of continuing to buy a beach pass, after having moved away?

    Some discernment will have to go into creating as fair and reasonable a set of guidelines as possible — number of years lived in Westport, contributions to the community, number of postings on ‘06880’ (this last one being tongue in cheek, of course).

    These guidelines could be made somewhat flexible by including an appeal process by which a person could present the reasons her/his Compo privileges should be ‘grandfathered.

    It does seem reasonable that a person, say, who has made substantial contributions, who is forced to move away due to financial constraints, or simply who has been a longtime Westport-er, not be unceremoniously forgotten about.

    I doubt beach numbers will be significantly affected. And, the good feeling supported by such a process will only make both Westport and Compo friendlier and warmer environments.

  7. How about an annual March lottery for former residents in which a certain number of beach stickers (at local rates) are selected?

    We lived in Westport for 18 years before moving to Redding in 2009. It remains, as Jan writes, deeply woven into our lives. Our kids went through Coley Elementary, Coley Middle and Staples. My wife was moderator at Saugatuck Congregational Church for several years and is now a teacher in a Westport school. I worked in town until 2017. We are still in and out of Westport several times a week — visiting friends, at Compo, the library, Westport Cleaners, Trader Joes, Carvel, and so much more.

    We miss Compo and Longshore in the spring and summer. Here’s to an affordable sticker at sticker price…

  8. Peter MIhalick

    Definitely an emotional issue but the beach is so crowded as it is. If the town would spend more time these non Westporters who show up in a Uber from the train station. It would help. So many times I see cars show up at the drop off area with NY plates 10 people pile out and use our beach. Can anything be done about that?

  9. Call me weird but I like a crowded beach…Kinda makes it more fun for me. That said, a suggestion to avoid non-resident drop offs, etc. would be to require a beach badge. Most of the NJ beaches require a small badge clipped to one’s swim suit. This can be loosely (or stringently) enforced as needed. I’m not advocating for it but it’s a suggestion.

  10. Would a one-time fee for a permanent senior sticker for 65+ work? it wouldn’t solve all the problems but for those that spent decades at Compo they would be fast approaching 65.

  11. I’ll be the contrarian. They have the option at $775, take it or leave it. Town beach access is a privilege, not a right. If they are suffering that much then they shouldn’t have left town…

  12. My husband moved to Westport in 1954, and he and his brother went through the Westport public schools. We moved to Westport in 1996 and my kids went through the Westport public schools as well. I moved out of Westport but still think of Compo and Burying Hill as “my” beaches. Being able to go, not every day, but occasionally for a walk in the late afternoon, would be wonderful. Please consider a resident beach pass, even if for restricted hours, say weekdays only, or after 4:00 pm.

  13. Janet Lenfest Antonucci, Staples Class of 1970

    My family moved to Westport in 1964 and my parents lived there for 50 years. They were pillars of Greens Farms Congregational Church, and my mom was an active member of the Women’s Club and the Garden Club. She participated in the Greening of the Post Road, built a park on Canal Green, and worked tirelessly at the Yankee Doodle Fair. They were friends of the Baldwins and the Raymonds. Swimming is my favorite activity, having taught swim classes at Camp Mahackeno for many years. Now that I don’t live in Westport, it pains me that I can only afford to visit a few times a year. I would hope that Westporters could open their hearts to those of us 65+ who have contributed so much to the town. A few old people isn’t going to result in overcrowding or altering the beauty of this magnificent resource. I would be eternally grateful to have a reduced rate beach pass for senior former residents.

  14. Catherine Iffland

    Tina Iffland – formerly of 20 Cross St. I lived in Westport from 2002 to 2021 and went to Compo practically daily. I recently moved to be nearer my family. (I lived in Weston from 1975 to 2002 and bought a beach sticker when I liveds there) as well.) I would love a former-resident sticker at a discounted price. Thank you.

  15. I think it is very sad that seniors who have given so much to Westport and move away, but close enough to use the beach, are not able to do so due to cost.
    Maybe the idea of purchasing a lifetime senior pass for weekdays at a reduced rate similar to what Weston residents pay (or perhaps with a small daily fee when used?) would not be a bad idea.
    It would require some further consideration but could work.
    I do not think fully opening the beach, during the day,or after 5 , to all former residents ( that’s hard to prove once people move away) is a good idea. The town has gotten even more crowded with families during the pandemic and if it’s too crowded, it will lose its charm.

  16. Richard Johnson

    I sympathize. But you start getting into a lot of trouble by deciding that certain categories of nonresidents get special benefits while others do not. Particularly at a time when people want to pull up the drawbridge to “outsiders.” We could also get into a lot of fights about who has made what contributions to Westport, either monetarily through taxes or through other means, and what benefits they’ve reaped from those contributions. One solution that people absolutely hate to hear is to consider a plan of development that makes Westport more accessible for seniors and others who do want to live here, but may have trouble finding housing now that the median home sale is well over $1.5m and most of town consists of single family houses on large lots.

    That said, Compo is open to all for six months every year. And in my experience, there’s no one checking at the Soundview lot mornings and evenings on weekdays, at least, even in high season. There’s also a lot less enforcement in shoulder seasons. I’m not advocating for breaking the rules, just pointing out that the barriers to entry are not strictly enforced. October is one of the best times to be at Compo, IMO. (I am a resident and have a sticker, btw, that’s just my personal experience.)

  17. Diana B Pils Marino

    I’d love that as a Staples High School Grad of ’79 but … isn’t the State of CT about to vote whether beaches will be open and the same price to ALL … no matter WHERE you live? You’d all pay the same amount … but you’d have to get to beaches EARLY! Sherwood Island is filled up by 11am most weekends. They don’t allow people in once the parking lot is filled .. even when it thins out after 2:30pm.

  18. My family had a house in Westport from 1958 until 2011. This is not a critical issue for me personally, as I can afford the sticker if I want to, and haven’t chosen to buy one. I go off season occasionally, and to Sherwood Island if I am so inclined. If I am going for the water, I’ll go to the Vineyard or Cape, maybe Rhode Island. We used to cal it “Long Island Sewer” decades ago. Of course the water is much cleaner than it used to be.

    That said, it seems to me that part of a town’s character is its history. People who lived there for many years are part of that history. For example, I have become successful in music, and I put on a concert at Levitt Pavilion in 2019 for my friend Charlie Karp, a Westport musical legend who passed away, and hadn’t lived n Westport in years, but was still very important to its history. The concert sold out and there is a documentary about it, and some of Westport’s musical history.

    I have always loved Westport because it is where I grew up. If Westport is to avoid becoming a soulless place where people buy houses solely to make their guests feel inadequate, (even though that is the “American Dream” for some), then having a discount for people that can prove that they lived in Westport for 10 years or more might be a good idea.

    Personally, I am in Westport all the time, but mostly to see my friends who still live there. As a home town, Westport is still a magnet for many who grew up there but choose to live in some of the surrounding towns, mostly for cost reasons. Some of us remember when Westport was a real home town, not just a pretentious address (that many of us never cared about when we grew up there in the 1950’s, 60’s, and 70’s any way). I still don’t care about that stuff actually, (though I could finally afford it now, that is if I wanted to waste all that money on making my friends feel inadequate too). Think I will commute 20 minutes instead …( like living in Weston, except much cheaper, and there is shopping nearby).

  19. Cristina Negrin

    Didn’t I read recently the the state legislature deemed that all beaches in CT are open to everyone?

  20. Priscilla A Long

    It has been very interesting to read through all the reactions to this dilemma. There were quite a few comments before there was one that showed some soul. I am a senior citizen who has lived in Westport for 36 years, and Compo Beach is woven into the fabric of my life. I can’t imagine moving away, but often think if I did move to a neighboring town, I would cough up the steep fee if I could to still get into the beach. I am fortunate that I haven’t had to make that decision – but there are many long time, life long Westporters who have had to leave and go to other towns. There were several creative ideas presented here about how to make it possible for former Westporters to have a reduced rate for Compo, especially if they lived here for decades. Let’s support our own – even if they had to move on to other pastures.

  21. Imagine if Bondi Beach told visitors to F off, or Miami Beach, or Redondo Beach. Fortunately there are places in the world that are welcoming and attract people. Being welcoming is a good thing.

  22. $775 for a beach sticker is hard to justify for any reason other than to exclude lower-income folks, especially since the number of stickers sold is limited anyway.

    Far fairer to set a reasonable non-resident price — let’s say $250, like the non-resident rate for Fairfield’s Penfield– with the same limited quantities.

    Westport people needn’t worry about an imaginary influx of undershirt-wearing, old-car-driving, loud-music-playing “outsiders” messing up their perfect beach. Few of these folks will line up to pay $250, when Sherwood Island is free.

    I DON’T think it would be fair, however, to make exceptions for certain families, no matter how long they previously lived in town.

  23. I support Jan!

  24. David J. Loffredo

    The beach has limited parking, thus the passes. It’s free to everyone who walks in. It’s also free more than half the year to anyone who wants to park and watch the sun rise and set.

    Time marches on. Westport’s main attraction is the school system, and the town is filled with big homes full of lots of kids.

    We had our time, you had your’s. Let the current residents have their’s.

    There are so many ways to enjoy the beach for free in the Summer. Get dropped off. Park at Longshore and walk.

    Someone made a comment about country clubs, and that’s what this is. There’s no “once a member, always a member” thing, get over it, move on, let the current locals have their time.

  25. Russell Gontar

    $775 for a beach sticker, oops, I mean, “emblem”, is utterly ridiculous. This is clearly intended to keep the the riff-raft out. Sad to see my beloved home town engaged is such disingenuous misbehavior.

  26. Roseann Spengler

    I raised my four children in Westport from birth through Staples HS. Sadly, I can no longer afford to live in the town that will forever be my home. A couple of years ago, I wrote to the First Selectman requesting a reduced beach sticker rate for seniors who have lived in Westport for 25 plus years and who raised their children here. $200…. $250?
    However, after living in the challenged world of Covid for a couple of years, I decided life is too short not to be good to yourself. Monday, I paid $800 for the priviledge of going to the beach that I love whenever I want.

  27. A person can always say that they are there to see the cannons, and they have to let you in for free(by law). I have always been able to talk my way in without a sticker. The people manning the hut are very lax.

  28. Eric William Buchroeder SHS ‘70

    Once there was a time when you could park downtown for free and take the Minnybus or even before that the CR&L bus because the beach was on a scheduled run. As a kid I knew a man named Chip Duffy who told me stories about being a conductor on the old trolley that ran by the beach. I’m 70 and within the last several years have ridden my bike to the beach when I’ve been back in town but I readily acknowledge that’s not an option for most people over 60. Would Uber be a feasible workaround? Ms. Marcus or anybody else ought to be able to visit the beach without needing an act of God or a $750 beach sticker.

  29. Elizabeth Thibault

    Pretty soon we’ll all be paying $775 for a sticker, since the state will be opening beaches to all state residents.
    Doesn’t seem to be fair that significant taxpayer money fund the beach, so the costs for all upkeep will need to be instead funded by stickers and daily passes. Split that cost across the number of season passes and the estimated daily passes, and we’ll come to that number pretty quickly. Some of the tax money that used to be spent on the beach expenses could be refunded and some put into a fund for senior and low income beach pass subsidies.

    Ideal? No, but since the state won’t be picking up the cost of all beach care along with opening them up, we’ve got to find a way to pay for the increased costs and help those who would otherwise be priced out.

  30. Todd- so being able to bully your way past a bunch of youngsters who are probably working their first job is something to boast about.
    Shame on you sir

    • It was an old wives tale in the 70s, that access to the cannons could not be restricted. But i have lived here since the 60s so i never had to resort to those methods. There was that one time in the late 80s i begged that girl to let me through before i had the sticker. She knew me from school. It was her first job. I was a dishwasher at allens clam house. We used to jam at the marcus house back then. They are cool people. I have gone whole decades without getting a sticker, i can just drive by and get the same thrill of the beach without having to park. We had a wooden sailboat, the oldest lighting in the sound at a slip.

  31. Remove those stickers from the windshield! Thats a hazard while driving.

  32. Eric William Buchroeder SHS ‘70

    Don’t get me started. When are they dredging the River so they can run airboat tours out to Cockenoe and back from the free parking at Harder Parking Plaza like a recent NYC transplant suggested would be a great way to revitalize downtown.

    • You don’ need to dredge to run an airboat…

      Tours to Cockenoe would be great!

      • Eric William Buchroeder SHS ‘70

        Dredge or no dredge I just don’t see airboat shuttle service as accretive to the quality of life for fish, fowl, reptile or any other living creature in Westport. I think that as a former Westport First Lady Ms. Marcus deserves a police escort to the beach whenever she damn well wants it. In fact, I think any woman who has raised a child in Westport deserves unfettered beach access. Let the men walk, ride a bike or hitchhike.

  33. A resident beach sticker is an attached property right. When one decides to sell a Westport residence figure the value of the beach sticker for however many years estimated future into the price… if you’ve already sold use the (handsome?) profit to fund future beach seasons.

    • Huh? This is an odd application of the “efficient market hypothesis” but it does not hold water. The value of a beach sticker has little or nothing to do with the price of a house. In fact, a great many of Westport’s residents never go to the beach at all, and would not care if even 100 beach stickers every year were included in the purchase price of their house.

  34. Mary Beth Murray

    Maybe the Westport Library could have a 3 day pass which folks who may still have a Westport Library Card could check out. We currently use this for discounted museums, and other resources at the Library.

    I currently do not reside in Westport (however my husband worked there for many years), but have been going to the beaches with our children once or twice a year (off season), or get dropped off and then my husband bikes to the beach to meet us there.

    We live on the border of Westport/Norwalk. I also have been a volunteer for CERT in Westport/Weston for many years now. I think it would be nice if the Town of Westport could establish some type of discounted card for those that lived in Westport for so many years but had to leave for other reasons or for those that would never have the opportunity to be at such a beautiful beach.

  35. Janice P. Marcus

    THANK YOU, Dan and everyone (Well, almost everyone!) who offered
    support, along with some thoughtful and innovative suggestions for the dilemma of long-time Westporters who, through circumstances beyond their control, had to move elsewhere. And a special thank you to the nice resident
    who lives near the beach for the offer of parking in her driveway.

    I didn’t mean to give the impression that I think any judgment regarding the fee charged for an Out-of-Town Beach emblem should take into account
    subjective factors, such as how much service the person contributed to the
    community, nor how many years of residence are involved.
    That was primarily mentioned to demonstrate how deeply a lot of former
    Westporters were and still are, emotionally and historically connected
    with the Town.

    My concern with the high cost of the Out-of-Town Beach emblems is
    more in line with those who said they cannot personally justify paying the extremely high fee, considering the limited time they actually will be able to
    spend at the beaches. Although, i did make the decision to purchase one
    for the 2022 season.

    I would remind some of the commentators who suggested a lot of walking
    in order to access the beaches — that we are talking about a number of
    former Westporters who are now contending with issues of aging and cannot
    walk considerable distances anymore. Though the spirit is still willing; the
    body, not so much.

    One final thought.
    To a very few who made negative comments, especially one individual
    who remarked about “living in big houses with lots of school-aged children and having moved to Westport for the great educational system”.

    How do you think it got to be so great? Primarily, that was accomplished by
    a lot of hard work by the generations of citizens now in their seventies, eighties, nineties and older! History matters! Westport was once a town of
    Onion farms, with the crops transported down the Saugatuck River to Long Island Sound to market in New York City. The superb schools which are a
    major attraction to newcomers were developed by former Westport residents. They continue to be supported and maintained by public-spirited citizens to this day. Perhaps some newer residents should consider giving something back to Westport, instead of just partaking of all it has to offer.

    Sincerely,
    Jan Marcus

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