standing Westerly Town Hall

WESTERLY — On hot days in the middle of the summer it can be difficult to find room to put a towel down on the Town Beach. Members of the Town Council say they will soon look into finding ways to ensure the premium real estate is only available to individuals who applied for and received parking passes for the beach and consider whether use of the beach can and should be limited to residents.

The passes are sold annually to town taxpayers and full-time residents who can prove they live in the town by providing a copy of a full-year lease. The passes can also be used at Wuskeneau Beach, where non-taxpayers and non-residents are allowed to purchase them because state funds were used when the town purchased the property.

Some residents and members of the council say the Town Beach, known by many as the Old Town Beach, is intended only for taxpayers and residents, but the parking passes are being transferred to renters and others, leading to residents being crowded out of using the beach.

"The Old Town Beach they feel is being overrun because the passes are not sticking with the taxpayers. They say the passes are flowing to rentals and Airbnbs," said Town Council President Sharon Ahern during a council meeting on Monday.

Others want the Town Beach limited to use by full-time residents only, not residents and taxpayers who may reside elsewhere.

Councilors said there appears to have been an increase in non-residents on the Town Beach this past summer. Councilor Suzanne Giorno said she believes some people make and distribute copies of the town-issued passes. She recommended developing new passes with bar codes to help limit the use of passes to those who purchase them.

Councilor Philip Overton asked to have the beach-pass issue placed on a future council agenda. Ahern, who develops the agendas with the town manager, said she would put the issue on a future agenda once officials complete research on the topic.

Town Attorney William Conley Jr. said he had recently received a request from "a constituent" asking for legal opinions on whether the Town Beach is public or private property. Conley said the question and related ones raise a host of legal issues including beach access questions. Before delving into researching answers to the constituent's questions, Conley said he wanted to first consult with the council to ask whether he should expend time on the question.

Ahern suggested the council handle the issue as a policy matter rather than having Conley spend time on the legal questions raised to him.

One resident, Diane Chiaradio Bowdy, wrote to Ahern recently and asked the council to limit sale of Town Beach parking passes to residents rather than to both residents and taxpayers.

"Westerly residents and taxpayers may purchase a season pass to park in the lot at the Westerly Town Beach. This has resulted in droves of non-residents flocking to the Town Beach and filling space — both on the beach and in the lots — that should belong to residents only," Chiaradio Bowdy said in an e-mail to Ahern.

Many residents, Chiaradio Bowdy said, "believe that the town should sell Town Beach passes and allow parking only to Westerly residents as confirmed by the address on their driver's license, vehicle registration and/or voter registration. Non-resident taxpayers should be allowed to purchase a season pass for admittance to Wuskenau only."

Chiaradio Bowdy, who is chairwoman of the School Committee, also asked the council to put the beach issue on a future agenda.

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