standing Westerly Town Hall

WESTERLY — Residents and others are asking the Town Council to formally refer a disputed right of way to the shoreline in Weekapaug to state authorities.

Resident Ben Weber and former resident Anthony Palazzolo on Monday both asked the Town Council to put the Spring Avenue right of way on its agenda for its Oct. 26 meeting and to vote then on whether to ask the state Coastal Resources Management Council to take over research on whether the Spring Avenue right of way should be officially designated as a public path to the shoreline.

Access to the shoreline in the village of Weekapaug leapt firmly into the public consciousness in the spring when new obstacles were placed at parking spaces on Spray Rock Road and at the Weekapaug Breachway. Many, including town officials, have said the obstacles were placed by Weekapaug Fire District officials.

Spring Avenue, which is also referred to as Spring Avenue extension and Spring Lane, is a paper road, meaning it appears on some maps but is not delineated as a road with pavement or street signs. The question of whether it is a public right of way has persisted for years. In 2008, the town hired Attorney Charles Soloveitzik and he found "conflicting evidence for the proposition that Spring Avenue is a public/town road or public right-of-way to the ocean."

Weber and Palazzolo, during a Town Council meeting Monday, noted the council was recently presented with several historic photographs that some say depict Spring Avenue being used as a public right of way decades ago.

"The public has presented substantial documentation that suggested it was accepted as a public right of way," Weber said.

The state Coastal Resources Management Council is authorized by state officials to conduct research and designate public rights of way to the shoreline throughout the state. The agency has so far designated 216 public rights of way to the shoreline in the state, including 11 in Westerly. There are no CRMC-designated rights of way in Weekapaug. There are other town-designated rights of way to the shoreline that have not yet been reviewed by CRMC.

Town Manager J. Mark Rooney said members of his staff were scheduled to meet this week with a CRMC employee to discuss rights of way. Rooney said he would bring up the topic of Spring Avenue.

Palazzolo, who practices law in Connecticut, urged the council to refer Spring Avenue to CRMC, noting Soloveitzik's research did not include a review of public use of the path. 

"It therefore could never be complete," Palazzolo said of Soloveitzik's work.

The state Constitution includes a provision that guarantees access to the shoreline to residents. It does not explain how the access is to be accomplished.

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