Once again, daily town beach parking passes will be for sale at Weed and Pear Tree Point Beaches.

After an hour-long discussion at the June 17 Park & Recreation Commission meeting on this topic, members decided to re-allow residents and non-residents to purchase daily parking passes at the town’s public beaches. They will most likely be available June 26.

However, there was a lengthy debate at the meeting about limiting daily parking passes to town residents as well as charging a walk-in fee for non-residents.

Background

During the height of the coronavirus pandemic and shutdown, Darien First Selectman Jayme Stevenson had issued an executive order that suspended the purchase of the daily gate parking beach passes.

At the June 17 meeting, Parks & Recreation Commission Chairman Lorene Bora said that since the situation with the pandemic has improved in Darien, Stevenson has rescinded all executive orders related to the operations of the parks.

“This effectively means that we go back to operating the parks under the rules that have been in place and are published,” Bora said. “This would mean that we return to selling daily parking passes at the beaches for individuals who are town residents who have not purchased a season’s pass for whatever reason, or individuals from out of town who would like to purchase a daily pass.”

Complaints

According to Bora and Parks & Recreation Department Director Pam Gery, there have been complaints of cars with out-of-state license plates parked at the beach.

There have been additional complaints at Weed Beach of people parking at Hindley Elementary School and walking down to the beach.

Bora made it clear that the town beaches are public, which means that non-residents can enter the beaches on foot or by bicycle.

“These are public beaches. By law, they are open to the public. We cannot limit walk-ins to town residents,” she said. “We can’t restrict them, but we can charge.”

High volume anticipated

There was a lengthy discussion about whether or not to limit the purchase of daily parking passes to residents, in light of being able to control the number of people at the beaches.

Bora plans to ask town council if limiting the purchase of parking passes is legal.

Gery said she thinks that this summer, town beaches will be more populated than in the past, since people are at home and not traveling, due to the pandemic.

Additionally, she said there has already been far greater demand for beach passes this year than in a typical summer.

“In a whole season in the past, we probably sell 7,000 to 8,000 seasonal beach passes,” she said. “We have already surpassed that, at 8,300 passes.”

She added that the town hasn’t yet hit full time summer yet, and there is a potential for overcrowding.

“It hasn’t been extremely hot. I think those that have been traveling from out of town get there early and stay all day,” she said. “Our residents come for a couple of hours since they live close by.”

She added that the governor has just increased the gathering limit to 100.

“We safely have to figure out how many people can be on that beach 15 feet apart per blanket,” she said.

Despite the large number of people that have been going to the beach, Gery said security guards are not reporting that people are unable to socially distance themselves while on the beach.

“There has not been a day when the parking lot was full and people were turned away. Every car that’s gotten in has had a place to park,” she said, adding, however, that some cars have parked in places that are not parking spaces.

Questions for the commission

According to Bora, the commission should work on answering the following:

 How is over capacity determined?

 What number do we consider over capacity?

 Who has the authority to put it in force?

Commission members decided that for this weekend, the patrol guard at the town’s public beaches should keep track of how many cars there are, as well as how many people are biking or walking onto the beach.

They are planning ahead to July 4th weekend, when they anticipate a very large number of people coming out to the beaches.

The commission discussed putting a mechanism in place in regard to the purchase of daily beach passes, and determining what that fee is going to be.

Non-resident walk-in fee?

Commission members disagreed strongly with one another on whether or not the town should have a daily walk-in fee to the beach for non-residents.

One member said not having this fee gives Darien a “warm and welcoming” feeling, and encourages those who are thinking of moving to town to come and sample its beaches.

Others said that circumstances are unique this summer and preference should be given to town residents.

Commission member Mike Sgroe, who is also co-chairman of the Pear Tree Point Beach Building Committee, said “We should do everything we possibly can to assure that town residents are not being disadvantaged.”

The commission will revisit this topic at its next meeting on July 15. They will determine if offering daily passes creates too much of a crowding issue. In which case, the commission could vote to suspend the daily passes again, according to Bora, in an email.

“We want people enjoying our beaches when they can’t do some of the other things that they would like to do,” Bora said.

Watch the Park & Recreation Commission meeting on Darien TV/79.

sfox@darientimes.com