standing Westerly Town Hall

WESTERLY — Permanent adoption of two town policies that were modified in response to the COVID-19 pandemic appears closer.

The Town Council, on Monday, discussed amending the town's parking ordinance to permanently implement a $150 penalty for violating parking limits on Bay Street and Larkin Road in Watch Hill. The ordinance  book currently calls for a $75 penalty, which was increased temporarily by executive order to $150 last summer in response to the actions of alleged widespread parking scofflaws. Town Manager J. Mark Rooney was able to issue executive orders under an emergency declaration implemented in response to the pandemic.

Officials said the threat of a $150 penalty makes motorists stop and think about violating the three-hour parking limit. The smaller penalty, officials said, is too close to the cost of paying for parking in Watch Hill.

"It's a deterrent, it works," said Councilor Caswell Cooke Jr., who previously advocated the same penalty for violations in the Misquamicut area where illegal parking has been a chronic summertime problem despite establishment of tow zones.

Councilor Philip Overton was the only councilor to question the proposed penalty increase.

"I would support $100 but $150 for a parking ticket is kind of crazy," Overton said.

The council is expected to conduct a public hearing on the new proposed fine on March 22 at 5:30 p.m.

The council also authorized Rooney and Police Chief Shawn Lacey to move ahead with plans to allow restaurants and bars to serve beer along the beach in Misquamicut. Rooney proposed the initiative last summer as a means to help restaurants in Misquamicut catch up after suffering business losses due to shutdowns and restrictions imposed because of the pandemic.

"We looked at this last summer and we did not have any problems but the chief brings out good points for enforcement," Rooney said.

Town Attorney William Conley Jr. recommended that the service of beer on beaches be regulated through the municipal licensing system rather than through an ordinance, saying the licensing approach would allow for greater flexibility and quicker responses to potential violations or problems.

"It's important to be able to respond to the expected creativity you will see in the exercise of this privilege," Conley said. "This would give flexibility and the ability to respond timely with enforcement measures."

Lacey said there were few problems last summer but noted that daily crowds were smaller than normal because of limitations on parking at Misquamicut State Beach and other restrictions imposed by former Gov. Gina Raimondo.

"Last summer it worked, but we were at reduced capacity … I think we have to have parameters on areas where serving has to be roped off," Lacey said.

Establishments must develop a system for ensuring patrons do not wander onto private property or public beaches while carrying beer, Lacey said.

Cooke, who serves as executive director of the Misquamicut Business Association, spoke in favor of the policy, saying it would bring the area up to speed with beach communities in other parts of the country. Cooke stressed that the policy would not detract from efforts to establish a family friendly atmosphere at Misquamicut.

Overton said he would go along with the proposal but would not hesitate to change his mind.

"My gut does not like alcohol on the beach, but I believe it was laid out nicely and can be done safely. If this gets out of control I will seek revocation," Overton said.

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