Thousands sign petition against beach access bill

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FAIRFIELD — A petition against a bill to equalize beach access received thousands of signatures Tuesday afternoon.

The online petition was created by former state Rep. Brian Farnen (R-132), who said a bill that would cut state funding for repairing local roads from cities that don’t offer better public access does not really solve the access issue.

“To me, it’s not even a beach access issue,” he said, noting that the Connecticut Supreme ruled resident-only beach ordinances were unconstitutional in 2001. “If local taxpayers pay for the services, they should be able to derive benefits from them at a lower cost.

Farnen’s petition, launched Sunday against HB #5254, had about 3,000 signatures as of Tuesday afternoon. Farnen is currently campaigning to take back the 132nd district seat from state Rep. Jennifer Leeper, a Democrat. Leeper also opposed the bill.

State Representative Roland Lemar, co-chair of the General Assembly Transportation Committee, introduced the bill. He cited Connecticut’s history of excluding nonresidents and minorities from suburban beaches and told a public hearing that he’s had enough of coastal towns hiding behind their powers of local control. , while charging exorbitant and discouraging daily and seasonal rates.

Farnen said towns like Fairfield have done a good job of welcoming people to its beach facilities. The cost of a seasonal beach sticker for residents is $25. Anyone without a sticker must pay $50 on weekends and $40 on weekdays at the gates to park. There is also a $250 season pass for Jennings and Penfield beaches for non-residents.

“Everyone can come to the beaches for free and use our facilities,” he said. “But, if you come during the summer and want to use the parking lot, the charge is slightly higher, because you’re not paying property taxes all year round to maintain it.”

Farnen said he didn’t think a $250 season ticket would be prohibitively expensive for people from out of town. He also noted that Fairfield has public transportation, like the train station, so people can come without their cars.

“What other people do profitably is just take an Uber,” he said. “You put four people in an Uber and come into town and come for free. I understand the issue of families on a tight budget and what they can afford. I grew up in a very popular environment where we didn’t go on vacation. Things like going to the beach used to be a big part of your family summer vacation. Everyone has the right to come to all beaches in the state, but paying a lower fee is fair and reasonable.

Farnen said he started the petition because he wanted to show lawmakers that residents were upset with the bill, adding that it was an election year and lawmakers needed to know that eyes were on their decision.

“The petition was really intended to put pressure on the majority party [Democrats] and their elected officials to say, ‘No, it’s wrong, and we’re going to fight it,’ he said. “During election years, they don’t want to have bills that speak. We wanted to make sure they understood that if they tried to go ahead this year, we were going to fight. »

Farnen said the bill would not just impact beaches or coastal communities — but any city property with parking fees such as parks and/or lakes.

Farnen is not the only Fairfield official to oppose the bill. Anthony Calabrese, director of parks and recreation for the city, as well as the Fairfield Beach Association, testified against her last week.

Calabrese said the bill, if passed, would be devastating to local communities and have huge fiscal impacts on municipalities. He said not being able to restrict parking in Fairfield’s ‘already congested’ beach areas would overwhelm residents, adding that increased traffic would be a concern for the health and safety of Fairfield residents. Fairfield.

He noted that beach passes were a big part of the revenue for the town of Fairfield. He said seasonal beach stickers accounted for about $925,000 in revenue per year. Meanwhile, he said, $40 or $50 day passes represent about $275,000 in revenue per year.

The loss of that revenue would mean less beach services or higher property taxes for residents, Farnen said.

“That’s not true,” he said. “We are the ones who pay to maintain the beaches, not the state.”

Farnen said he got the impression from listening to the discussions and testimony around the bill that other cities could do a better job with access to their beaches. He suggested following Fairfield’s example.

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