For some shoreline residents, the beach is a tranquil paradise where you can stretch out quietly with a book on a warm summer day or cool off with a dip in Long Island Sound.
For others it's a great place to have a few drinks, dance to loud music and go boogie-boarding with friends.
The clash of these cultures often has the same effect as a tropical air mass colliding with a cold front: stormy seas.
Such turbulence is now battering Old Lyme's Sound View Beach, where new parking fees designed to cut down on revelry by boisterous crowds have stirred up angry merchants like so many cumulonimbus clouds.
On Monday night scores of business owners and supporters packed a Board of Selectmen's meeting to demand a repeal of the board's decision to charge $25 to park along Hartford Avenue, which the say has crippled sales as effectively as a rainy weekend in July.
Lindsey Maratta, a spokeswoman for the shopkeepers, also complained about an "over-presence" of police on the beach and the effect of "unwelcoming" signs.
On the one hand this newspaper sympathizes with the merchants' frustration. After all, they own legitimate businesses, and the taxes they pay help support police salaries and beach maintenance, among other municipal expenses.
But we also understand the position outlined by First Selectwoman Bonnie Reemsnyder, that many residents have complained about public drunkenness, excessive noise and rowdy behavior at Sound View Beach.
Selectman Skip Sibley agreed, calling the crackdown "the culmination of a different culture we're trying to promote down there. Some people like to go to the beach to go to the beach, not to patronize the businesses."
This newspaper often has suggested both sides of polarized positions consider compromise, and recommend that bar owners turn the volume down a few notches and cut off patrons whose blood-alcohol percentages shoot up like the temperature and humidity during the Dog Days of summer.
At the same time, beach-goers who crave solitude and silence must realize that Sound View can't realistically guarantee either. It's a public beach that attracts many people, and while visitors have every right to be protected against inebriated unruliness, as the old saying goes, you can't legislate taste.
In the mean time, the whole issue of beach behavior could become moot if admonitions expressed at a separate meeting Monday night prove prescient.
While officials and merchants at Old Lyme Town Hall were debating issues involving Sound View Beach, members of the state's Shoreline Preservation Task Force were meeting at the University of Connecticut's Avery Point campus in Groton to discuss what could happen to the entire coast if sea levels continue to rise.
E. Zell Steever of Noank, chairman of Groton's former Task Force on Climate Change, urged creation of a state committee that should begin planning for a possible "retreat from the waterfront."
And State Rep. Elissa Wright, D-Groton, warned, "The storm surges of today are going to become the high water marks of tomorrow."
The task force, formed in the aftermath of last year's Tropical Storm Irene, heard from longtime residents and marina owners who testified that water levels are significantly higher now than a few decades ago.
This trend could endanger not just beaches but neighborhoods, factories and other properties along the coast.
The task force must now consider the feasibility of adopting new coastal-preservation legislation, but we fear that just as you can't legislate taste, you can't pass laws to stem the tide.