Town Limits Parking Near Schoolhouse Pond

By: Alan Pollock

Depending on the weather, Schoolhouse Pond Beach can be overcrowded, as it was on July 2 when this photo was taken. FILE PHOTO

In Bid To Limit Overcrowding

CHATHAM Selectmen this week rejected a second request by the board of health to ban parking on Sam Ryder Road in a bid to reduce overcrowding at Schoolhouse Pond Beach, opting instead to limit on-street parking to residents only.

“We’re still having the issue of overcrowding on the beach,” Parks and Recreation Director Dan Tobin said. Health and Environment Director Robert Duncanson agreed, saying that with the high water level in the pond, it’s impossible to have more than a few people on the beach while maintaining a 12-foot separation between families and a six-foot buffer around the lifeguard stand to protect against COVID-19.

“You’re really only talking one or two, three, four families,” he said. “Not a lot.”

Health Board Chairman John Beckley said he has been watching the beach occupancy, and depending on the weather, has seen both crowded and acceptable conditions.

“The people there were trying to distance. I couldn’t say that they were 12 feet apart, but they clearly were trying to keep as far apart as they could.”

Schoolhouse Pond is the town’s only residents-only beach, and police patrol the small parking lot to ensure that vehicles have the appropriate stickers. Town officials have blocked off half of the parking spaces to try to reduce crowding on the beach, but visitors are still parking on Sam Ryder Road and walking in. As it did last month, the health board voted again this week to ask selectmen to ban parking on Sam Ryder Road.

“The lot would only be for people with resident stickers. It could help, I think,” Health Agent Judith Giorgio said Monday.

Meeting Tuesday, selectmen again rejected the parking ban, saying it would inconvenience those looking to access conservation lands or reach the ponds for fishing. It might also force beachgoers to simply park outside the no-parking zone, moving the problem elsewhere, Selectman Cory Metters said.

“It may be heresy to say it,” but the better approach might be to simply close the beach altogether, Selectman Dean Nicastro said. “That seems to me to be the most sensible way to address the public health issue.” Board member Jeffrey Dykens agreed.

“If public health is our number one concern, I think we ought to close the beach,” he said. “And I don’t want to be the meany here, but how can you maintain social distancing on that beach?”

Selectmen asked whether the board of health had advocated for closing the beach, and Duncanson said they had not.

Instead, on Metters’ suggestion, the board voted to impose a new parking restriction on Sam Ryder Road between Mills Road and Queen Anne Road, limiting parking to residents only. With only Dykens dissenting, the board approved the idea.

Selectmen Chairman Shareen Davis said the situation needs to be watched closely. Selectmen unanimously agreed to remand the matter back to the board of health to have them consider how social distancing can be enforced there, and to consider closing the beach if it cannot.