Public or private? Milford zoning board talks beach access points

Woodmont Beach was named by Save the Sound as one of the ten best in the state this year for water quality, in Milford, Conn. on Thursday, June 10, 2021.

Woodmont Beach was named by Save the Sound as one of the ten best in the state this year for water quality, in Milford, Conn. on Thursday, June 10, 2021.

Brian A. Pounds/Hearst Connecticut Media

MILFORD — Access to the city's extensive coastline is one of the benefits of living in Milford, but for residents with waterfront homes the line between public and private access points can sometimes become an issue.

There are 81 public access points along Milford's coast, with some of them hugging private property lines, which has led to some homeowners putting up private access signs in areas that are meant for the public, according to John Mortimer, a Planning and Zoning Board member.

The issue came up during last month's meeting of the P&Z's Plan of Conservation and Development Subcommittee when the group discussed updating its zoning graphics and databases.

During the meeting, Mortimer said some homeowners are blocking off the beach access points.

"I've had issues, neighbors have been told not to use them, and police have been threatened to call in," he said. "A lot of these access points near Silver Sands Beach are paths in-between houses, and owners put up gates and block the access points off."

Milford Mayor Ben Blake said the city maintains an open space inventory.

"This is a concern that comes up from time to time, and we do have a process to look into it when something is brought to the city's attention," he said.

Blake said that sometimes fences are built or bushes are planted on public access points, and if a concern is brought up, Jeremy Grant, the city's open spaces director, steps in.

"He will take a look at it and match it up against the open space inventory, and if there is an issue, he has to work with the city attorney's office to do a title search to see if that particular property there was a public right of way," Blake said.

According to the city's coastal access map, there are seven public beach access points near Silver Sands: Surf Avenue, Carolyn Street, Maddox Avenue, Blair Street, Chetwood Avenue, Cooper Avenue and Pearl Street.

"We have an updated coastal access map which shows all the predominant coastal public access ways in the city," said City Planner David Salukis, who also serves as Planning and Zoning Board executive secretary. "This is newer, cleaner, and better than what we had."

The graphics the committee is working on are the DEEP Natural Diversity Database, classifications of open space, historic resource inventory, land use by type, zoning types and land uses.

"This is actually probably a good thing as we go forward and talk about public engagement that we point out to the public and say these are the public access points," said P&Z Chairman Jim Quish. "If there is an issue, collectively with the mayor's office and police, devise a quick sentence that directs people to the right place to go."

"These public access points are in stone, and there's no argument," he added. 

Salukis said he'd heard complaints on the issue during his entire tenure with the city.

"Public works is charged with making sure they are kept open because they are in charge of public spaces, and those are public access ways," he said.

Quish said it is essential for the committee to point citizens to the graphic so they know where the public beach access points are located.

"At Ocean Avenue and Grant Street, there's a paved area that goes to the beach, and people put up a sign that said 'private no entry,'" he said. "But it's not private because both Ocean Avenue and Grant street are public access ways."

The coastal access graphic still needs to be completed. Salukis said he would ask the team working on the graphic it it could be magnified.

"It would be great to have a version where you could actually see up close where the access way is, the individual homes the access way goes between," he said. "We might be able to turn this into a separate online document, separate from the total plan, as a reference which would be really cool."

Quish said the committee should have a draft ready in about a month.

"Once we get a draft, we should discuss how to share it," he said. "I'm sure we all feel the same way, the public needs to have early access to a draft and have public comment, and as a committee, we will decide where and when to have public input and on what specific subjects."