This Old Lyme fence dispute might even flummox Frost

New England’s own Robert Frost a century ago wrote about the contradictions and tensions of walls and fences in his poem “Mending Wall.” “Good fences makes good neighbors,” is an often-quoted line from this poem, a line used to support the point of view that walls and fences enforce civility and respect for property.

But there is nothing good about the chain link monstrosity that has now divided Old Lyme’s Sound View Beach from Miami Beach for two summer seasons. A group of Sound View residents feel strongly enough that the fence is divisive, unattractive and illegal they have filed a civil lawsuit against Miami Beach Association. The plaintiffs charge the fence interferes with the public’s right of access to the beach, in violation of a 1953 court order.

“This needs to be adjudicated in court,” plaintiff Robert Breen told a Day reporter recently.

We hope Breen is not correct that the only path to a solution here is via the judicial system. That’s a costly path, not only financially, but also emotionally for neighbors who are now fighting neighbors. Before this suit progresses further, we urge all parties, including town officials, to again seek to come together to find a solution that results not only in the fence’s removal, but also in providing some relief for Miami Beach residents justified in being fed up with the trash and filth left on their beach, and the out-of-control and often alcohol-fueled bad behavior there.

Before the fence was erected in the late fall of 2016, Miami Beach residents said they dealt with piles of dog feces and all manner of garbage strewn on the beach near their homes. They also endured disrespectful beach-goers who grabbed lawn furniture from private properties, and even those who had sex on the beach. We agree this type of disrespect is difficult to endure.

The behavior witnessed led the Miami Beach Association to erect the fence and, for two summers now, post a security guard and charge beach-goers $10 for access.

It’s not the first time tensions over beach access has boiled over in Old Lyme. Developer Henry Hilliard deeded the beach to the “unorganized general public” in the 1880s and in 1953 a Superior Court judge ordered the Miami Beach association to remove a fence between Miami Beach and Sound View and stop impeding the public’s access. In the 1990s, another fence erected at a boiling point in tensions was removed by the town.

First Selectwoman Bonnie Reemsnyder said the town cannot take the current fence down, however, because the town’s attorney has said the municipality has no jurisdiction in the matter. If the town had jurisdiction, it would do something, she said.

Town officials did lead public meetings on the issue and tried to find a suitable solution that would keep the beach fence-free. Reemsnyder said, for example, the town offered Miami Beach Association the use of the town’s patrol rangers at a reduced fee. Some Miami Beach residents, however, said they don’t want to be subjected to certain town regulations such as those prohibiting coolers on the beach.

Even if it is municipal legal counsel’s opinion the town can’t legally remove the fence, we urge officials to again try to bring the parties in this matter together to work to find solutions. The owners of local beach bars should be included in this mix.

The fence needs to go. So, too, bad behavior must be squelched.

Robert Frost wrote in “Mending Wall”: “Before I built a wall I’d ask to know; What I was walling in or out, And to whom I was like to give offence.” The Sound View/ Miami Beach fence offends too many and defies the intent of the original deed opening the beach to the public.

 

The Day editorial board meets regularly with political, business and community leaders and convenes weekly to formulate editorial viewpoints. It is composed of President and Publisher Pat Richardson, Editorial Page Editor Paul Choiniere, retired Day editor Lisa McGinley, Managing Editor Tim Cotter and Staff Writer Julia Bergman. However, only the publisher and editorial page editor are responsible for developing the editorial opinions. The board operates independently from the Day newsroom.

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