2018-07-12 / Front Page

Council Looks for Line in the Sand

By Christopher Allen

After being alerted by residents who are concerned with public access and rights of way at Easton’s Beach in front of the Newport Beach House wedding and event venue, the Middletown Town Council is looking for a resolution.

The property, site of the former Johnny’s Atlantic Beach Club, was purchased by Boston-based Longwood Venues in 2016.

Middletown resident Michael Cunningham told the council that he recently had a confrontation with Beach House staff in the hours leading up to a wedding ceremony. According to Cunningham, about 50 families were instructed to vacate the public section in front of the venue.

“Some people left, and some people did not. As the hours went on, more staff came down,” he said. “They threatened to call the police if people didn’t move. Something needs to be done. They are badgering people to get off the beach,” he said.”

Jaime Campos, Longwood director of venue operations, did not dispute that the staff had removed people from the beach, but said they were within their rights to do so.

“They were on our property, which is why we asked them if they could move,” he said.

He said that DiPrete Engineering had determined and recorded the mean high-water mark, which gives Newport Beach House around 500 feet of sand, in addition to the building and parking lot.

“I think that the definition of what everybody understands that [border] to be and what it is, is a little bit skewed right now,” he said.

Town solicitor Peter Regan told the council that although a private engineer was contracted to look into the matter, the end result was not an actual demarcated border. “You’ve got to remember, that’s not necessarily marked down on the beach on any particular day,” he said.

In previous talks between management and town officials, along with input from the Middletown Police Department, it was agreed that police would not charge beachgoers with trespassing, but would remove those who are acting disorderly.

“If [the Newport Beach House doesn’t] fix this, and fix it soon, I want to see them in front of us,” said councilor Henry Lombardi, Jr at the July 2 meeting.

Campos said the Newport Beach House wants to work with the town to clear up any misunderstandings and is seeking a cooperative working relationship. “The bottom line is we want to be good neighbors. We are not trying to upset anybody,” he said.

Council president Robert Sylvia asked Regan to contact the venue’s legal representation.

“I don’t want to end up bringing them in for a show-cause hearing. But that will certainly be our next step. We have well defined the mean high tide mark for that beach,” Sylvia said, referring to the border between the property controlled by the private business and the portion of the beach and the abutting shoreline that is reserved for public domain. “Their staff needs to be apprised of it, because we are not going to let our residents be treated like that.”

Sylvia said that although Middletown is always welcoming to new businesses, especially those who invest capital to upgrade their properties, that should never come at the expense of public rights.

“We want to maintain a quality of life for our residents,” he said. “We are concerned about incidents like that, and how it appears to reflect a change in the policies that we discussed with the client earlier in the year.”

Sylvia suggested that the Newport Beach House mark off the area that it owns so as not to confuse the staff or the public. As for the desire for clients to have a vista to accentuate their beachfront experience, he said, “If they [staff] want to go down there tactfully, and say, ‘Hey, can we just take a couple of pictures and then you can go back and sit where you want to sit,’ I don’t have a problem with that. But the people do not have to comply with it.”

Cunningham also pointed to a particular issue that he feels exacerbates the problem. The Beach House advertises to prospective clients that they provide a private beach, which is true in a technical sense but may mislead event stakeholders as well as staff.

“They show pictures on their website [of an unobstructed beach to water view]… So, they are putting themselves in a very difficult position,” he said.

“We have been advised several times fairly recently that they would not be asking people to leave the beach,” said Regan. “What I’m hearing today is something different than what has been presented to us in the past.”

An email from the town administrator’s office had no further update, saying, “the Town Solicitor has been in touch with the Newport Beach House, as directed by the town council.”

Vice-president Paul Rodrigues registered his displeasure with the news at the July 2 meeting, saying that the issue has been ongoing and may need additional measures to be rectified.

“Whether you’re a [Middletown] resident or not, you’re a person. And if they go beyond their boundaries or their legal [rights]. That’s just wrong,” Rodrigues said.

“If we need to draw a line in the sand, no pun intended. Then now is the time to do it.”

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