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Court: Conn. Must Share Beaches

May 10, 2000

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) _ The exclusive beaches of Greenwich must be opened to out-of-towners, the state Appellate Court said Wednesday in a ruling that could make all of Connecticut’s shoreline more hospitable.

A resident of Stamford sued the adjacent town of Greenwich in 1995 after a guard prevented him from jogging in Greenwich Point, a 147-acre park with a beach on Long Island Sound.

The state’s second-highest court threw out the town’s longstanding no-trespassing policy, saying it violates a public trust doctrine that says municipalities hold parks on behalf of all citizens.

Many Connecticut towns charge nonresidents exorbitant parking fees to use their beaches or require them to walk to the waterfront.

Greenwich _ whose famous and wealthy inhabitants include Ron Howard, Mel Gibson, and Kathie Lee and Frank Gifford _ bans walkers and joggers from its beaches, and allows out-of-towners there only if they are accompanied by a resident and pay a $6 fee.

The ruling could affect dozens of shoreline communities. Only 30 miles of Connecticut’s 78 miles of sandy beach are public, according to the state Department of Environmental Protection. The remaining 48 miles are under various restrictions, either privately run or under the control of associations.

Greenwich First Selectman Lolly Prince said she expects the town’s governing board on Thursday will approve an appeal to the state Supreme Court.

Greenwich officials maintain a 1919 legislative act granted the town an exception to any public trust doctrine. Residents say reversing the policy would increase traffic at the already overused Greenwich Point and damage the beach environment.

``There is a limited amount of space that people can use and still be able to protect the ecosystem,″ Prince said. ``It’s a delicate balance.″

The jogger who filed the lawsuit, lawyer Brenden Leydon, said he was confident the ruling would stand.

``At one point in the decision, there’s almost a full page of citations of cases where it was decided if a town holds a park, it does so for the general public,″ Leydon said. ``The string of decisions goes back to 1824.″

He said, when the case is over, he will go where the Greenwich guard wouldn’t let him jog.

``I’m probably going to have a little party,″ he said.

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