Should Darien charge for walk-ins to beaches on weekdays?
Effective immediately and continuing through the rest of the summer season, only town residents will be allowed on Darien’s beaches on the weekends.
In a press release on Thursday, Darien First Selectman Jayme Stevenson said that measure is necessary “in order to prevent the spread of COVID-19 within our community. Over the last several days the number of reported individuals in Darien who have contracted the disease has increased. For the health and well-being of our citizens, it is necessary to limit access to our beaches and provide safe conditions.”
To view the full press release, visit the Town of Darien website and click “Beach Access update: 7-23-20.”
Weekday beach access
Whether or not to charge for walk-ins for both nonresidents and residents at Darien’s beaches was one of the top issues debated at the most recent Parks & Recreation Commission meeting.
Currently, the town does not charge anyone for walking into its beaches — resident or nonresident.
However, only town residents have the ability to buy a seasonal parking pass.
Throughout the summer, park security has been keeping track of both residents and nonresidents who enter the beaches. According to Parks & Recreation Department Director Pam Gery, they do so by asking people where they live.
Additionally, security also observes those who are carrying in a lot of beach items, as well as those arriving at the beach in Ubers. They also look at license plates.
It was also noticed that some people have been taking the bus from Norwalk and walking down to the beach.
Letters of complaint
Commission members discussed why it matters whether or not walk-ins are Darien residents.
In response, Parks & Recreation Commission Chairman Lorene Bora said the commission has received about a dozen letters from residents “displaying their dissatisfaction with the fact that out of towners are allowed on the beach, that people are parking at Hindley [Elementary School] and walking down” to the beach.
According to Bora, the letter writers are upset that nonresidents are getting in for free while residents’ taxes are paying for it. They are also concerned about beach crowding, she said.
Open to all
Bora has been in touch with Town Counsel Wayne Fox, who reviewed Darien’s beach rules and affirmed the town can’t prohibit nonresidents from entering its parks and beaches.
She further said if the town were to charge for walk-ins, every person who enters the beach would have to be able to produce an ID card showing that either they have a seasonal pass or are a resident.
Additionally, Bora said that Fox said if walk-ins are charged, “it has to be an a justifiable fee. It has to be tied to the costs to maintain the park and its services. It can’t be some arbitrary amount to discourage people.”
It was also said the town gives out special permits for nannies whose cars are registered out of town. There are currently 85 of those. Additionally, there are 17 seasonal New York City residents who have summer beach passes.
While the beaches have been staying at capacity, Bora said at the meeting that she has noticed they have been a lot more crowded over the past few years than in days gone by.
Gery said, however, the only time people have been turned away from Weed Beach so far this summer was over the July 4th weekend, for one hour.
However, she added that on a recent weekend, security was at a “very, very close point” of closing the parking lot again at Weed Beach.
In light of the crowding, park security has not observed any instances where people were not able to socially distance.
“We are having the parking monitors walk up to the beach every half hour when it’s extremely crowded, just to make sure there is not an overcapacity to be on the beach,” Gery said. “If there is, we’re going to close the entrance off to walkers and cars. We haven’t had to do that.”
Gery added that some people, such as joggers and bikers, are walking in and out without any spending any time on the beach, while others are there for several hours.
It was suggested that a place to count nonresidents going to the beach might be the Hindley parking lot.
Overall, commission members said the beaches feel safe, despite the number of people on them.
This issue will be discussed further at the next Parks & Recreation meeting on Aug. 19.