KENNEBUNKPORT – Residents voted Monday night to approve a new ordinance and beach use agreement to guarantee public access to most of Goose Rocks Beach.

The vote at the special town meeting at the Kennebunkport Consolidated School gymnasium was 233 in favor and 76 opposed.

The ordinance calls for a reserved area extending 25 feet from any participating beachfront property’s sea wall, or the edge of the landscaped area, toward the water.

The public could walk in the area, but could not keep watercraft or equipment there without permission. People would have to leave if asked to do so by a property owner.

Despite Monday’s vote, the agreement and the ordinance — which support each other — could be nullified by the end of this week.

Town Manager Larry Mead said at least 50 beachfront property owners must remain parties to the agreement, or it will be voided.

Sixty-one had agreed to the terms as of Monday, but property owners have until Thursday to opt out, Mead said.

There are 109 beachfront lots.

Meanwhile, the trial in a lawsuit brought against the town by 29 Goose Rocks Beach property owners in 2009 began Monday in Cumberland County Superior Court.

Those owners claim the town violated their property rights by allowing public access to privately owned areas on the beach.

They argue that their properties extend from the sea wall to the low-tide mark.

Testimony is expected to begin today with the attorney for plaintiffs calling witnesses.

“There is little certainty in the outcome of the lawsuit,” Mead told the audience at Monday night’s town meeting.

“What this ordinance provides is the certainty that the public recreational use of Goose Rocks Beach will continue.”

Mead said the beach use agreement and ordinance would keep more than half of the beach open to public use. The stipulations for public access would be written into each owner’s deed.

The agreement and ordinance would offer property owners protection, including the authority to ask someone to leave if that person is within the reserved area.

The plan also calls for the formation of a Beach Advisory Committee to manage and maintain Goose Rocks Beach.

The town has agreed to put $2,000 into a beach maintenance account for each property owner who signs the agreement. Mead said those funds could be used to clean the beach or even hire lifeguards.

Residents rejected a motion to postpone the vote on the proposal until the annual town meeting in May.

Town officials said delaying the vote until 2013 would dissolve the proposed agreement and beach use ordinance.

“The motion to push this back is the same as voting no on this proposal,” said Selectman Stuart Barwise.

The issue has divided the community, which includes extended families who have spent summers at Goose Rocks Beach for decades.

Among those affected is Christine Rodden, a Massachusetts resident whose family owned a beachfront house when she was growing up and now owns a cottage just off the beach. She was on the sand Monday afternoon, sitting in a circle of several women that included sisters, in-laws and daughters.

“It’s been kind of sad because there’s a lot of dissension,” Rodden said. “A lot of people don’t talk to each other now.”

Rodden said the 25-foot buffer is “not a bad thing” because beachfront owners should have some protection of their property rights. “On the other hand,” she said, “we’ve always used this beach as a public beach.”

Rodden’s mother, Suzanne Wilson, stated her family’s position more clearly: “This is the way it’s always been and this is the way we want it to continue.”

Unfortunately, Rodden and other summer residents said, they couldn’t vote Monday night because they aren’t registered voters in town.

“It would have been nice to have some say in this,” Rodden said.

Peggy Mix, who lives in Connecticut, spends several months each year at the beachfront cottage her grandfather built in the late 1800s.

Mix isn’t a plaintiff in the lawsuit, she said, but she’s glad that the town and the courts are addressing the beach ownership issue, which is complicated by limited parking and the absence of public bathrooms.

“We’ve had to ask people to move so we could get down our own stairs to the beach,” she said.

Some people ask if she has a public bathroom, she said, and one woman climbed the stairs to change her child’s diaper on Mix’s lawn.

“Whatever happens,” Mix said, “I hope it doesn’t change the ambience of our community, because it’s a special place for many people.”

Some beachfront owners don’t want any changes, including sisters-in-law Ann Pick and Barbara Young, whose family has owned cottages at Goose Rocks Beach for 100 years.

Their deeds show beach ownership to the mean low-tide level, but they have no interest in restricting public access.

“We would like open access to the beach as it has always been,” said Pick, who lives in Minnesota.

“It’s a beach, for God’s sake. I have a front seat to what goes on out here. I have rarely, if ever, seen a problem with anyone on the beach.”

Staff Writers Kelley Bouchard and Ann S. Kim contributed to this report.

 

Staff Writer Dennis Hoey can be contacted at 791-6365 or at:

[email protected]