Beach Access Suit

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In 1995, third-year law student and Stamford resident Brendon Leydon was stopped when he and a friend attempted to jog into Greenwich Point.  At that time, out-of-towners were required to be accompanied by a town resident with a beach card.  A small fee ($6 ?) was also required.  This was only fair since non-residents did not support the beach through property taxes like residents.  I also believe the Town wanted guests to be accompanied by residents to ensure they were with somebody who had a stake in the beach.  It would be less likely they would abuse the facilities. 

 

GuardShack0001.jpg     Photo by Carl White  

 

I'm not sure why Leydon decided to jog - with a friend - at Greenwich Point that morning.  After all, there is a very nice facility at Cove Park.  Why so far from home?  He may have intentionally meant to challenge the Town beach policy.  Maybe he was trying to impress his professors, or establish himself as a viable political candidate.  Then again, Greenwich has always been a target because it is perceived to be rich and snobbish.  The majority of people in Greenwich are not rich.

Leydon filed suit against the Town to challenge the beach exclusion policy.  He believed no one should be excluded from a "public park" since these were created for the public.  State residents who didn't have access to the beach should be allowed to use Greenwich Point.  A similar case in New Jersey had forced a community to open up its beaches.  This was cited as a precedent.  He lost the case in a lower court, but appealed and the decision was reversed.  Then the Town appealed to the Connecticut Supreme Court.  Leydon's main contention was that exclusion violated Freedom of Speech under the First Amendment!  

Town Attorney John Meerbergen had developed a defense based on what he thought was a solid legal foundation.  He cited a 1919 Special Act by the General Assembly, which gave the Town the right to maintain and regulate parks.  This was further strengthened by the Town Charter, which stated "only inhabitants of the Town may enter, remain upon or use public beaches, recreation places and facilities except for guests of inhabitants of the town".  The Town also contended it had not taken federal funding to maintain the beach, which would have strengthened Leydon's case.


Despite the principle of "Home Rule" , the Court opened up the beach in July 2001.  The Court ruled  "Greenwich Point was a public forum and must be open to expressive activity of any kind".

There was some talk of challenging the ruling.  Members of the Lucas Point Association, which owns the the drift way approach leading to the Point, threatened to close it. The Town had been granted a lien by the Association to use the road for access to the beach.  They expected the increase in traffic would put extra stress on the road, and it would adversely effect the esidential neighborhood.  A committee was even formed and funds raised; but they decided it would be too expensive and time-consuming to challenge.

The Greenwich Point Preservation Association (predecessor of the current Greenwich Point Conservancy) was worried that there would be overcrowding, excessive traffic, interference with law enforcement, fire and safety units, and damage to vegetation and wildlife.  Greenwich Point is considered somewhat of a nature preserve, and even Pelican Island (a small sand spit off the west shore) was once designated as a bird sanctuary. 

Fortunately, none of these things materialized.  The Point continues to thrive and there has only been a gradual increase in traffic.  The Greenwich Point Conservancy and the staff have done an outstanding job of protecting this great resource.

You're probably wondering where I stand on this issue.  You may be surprised!  Ever since I was a little boy, I've spent many summers on Cape Cod.  I'd go to the many public beaches where everyone enjoyed the salt water.  I liked meeting all the different people from all over the country.  The more, the merrier! 

However, the Point has limited space.  It has a small beach.  If citizens from all over the state were to come at once, this would stress out our facilities and cost a lot more money to maintain.  Town governments were created to manage their resources.  They have to pay for facilities and services,  Furthermore, other towns along the shore have access and don't need access.  Still other towns are near major rivers, ponds and lakes.

To date, to the best of my knowledge, Brendon Leydon has never been to Greenwich Point to exercise his Freedom of Speech.  I don't think his initial attempt to enter was to speak.  I suspect he was just trying to further his (political) career.  Did he win one for the "average" man?   Judging by the lack of any "spike" in the number of people entering Greenwich Point, I don't think anyone really cared.

P.S. If you're a non-resident and want to see the beach, let me know.  I'd be happy to take you!

SOURCE:  Greenwich Time (Hearst Corp.)

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About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Carl White published on May 18, 2011 9:03 PM.

Greenwich and the Civil War was the previous entry in this blog.

Gazing at the Stars! is the next entry in this blog.

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