Bath­room op­po­nents lose town­wide ref­er­en­dum bid

West­port to con­struct per­ma­nent re­stroom at Compo’s South Beach

Connecticut Post (Sunday) - - News - By So­phie Vaughan [email protected]­medi­; 203- 842- 2638; @ So­phieCVaughan1

WEST­PORT — Op­po­nents of a plan to build an ADA- com­pli­ant re­stroom fa­cil­ity on Compo’s South Beach failed to col­lect enough sig­na­tures to bring the de­ci­sion to a town­wide ref­er­en­dum that they hoped would over­turn the project’s ap­proval.

“We have be­gun a pe­ti­tion drive in or­der to en­able the town res­i­dents to voice their opin­ion on this re­stroom ap­pro­pri­a­tion res­o­lu­tion, and to fi­nally give the tax­pay­ers the power to de­cide this rather than hav­ing it im­posed upon them,” res­i­dent and physi­cian Jay Wal­shon, an op­po­nent of the plan, wrote in Nov. 25 email to the West­port News.

At a Nov. 13 meet­ing, the Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Town Meet­ing voted 26- 8 to ap­prove $ 840,000 in fund­ing to re­place the port- a- pot­ties on South Beach with a per­ma­nent ADA- ac­ces­si­ble re­stroom fa­cil­ity and stor­age room, paid for with a 20- year bond and likely to last 50 to 70 years.

A week af­ter the RTM ap­proval, Wal­shon asked Town Clerk Patty Strauss for a pe­ti­tion to bring fund­ing for the bath­room project to a town­wide vote. He and the other project op­po­nents had un­til 4: 30 p. m. Wed­nes­day to gather sig­na­tures from 1,885 res­i­dents.

At 5 p. m. on Nov. 28, Strauss said pe­ti­tion pages were filed, but not enough sig­na­tures were sub­mit­ted to merit a ref­er­en­dum. As out­lined in the town char­ter, a ref­er­en­dum can take place if 10 per­cent of town’s reg­is­tered vot­ers sign a pe­ti­tion in sup­port of a revote.

Sev­eral of the project’s op­po­nents, in­clud­ing Wal­shon, are avid pick­le­ball play­ers and, over the sum­mer, com­plained the fa­cil­ity pro­posed to be placed in front of the pick­le­ball court would ob­struct the play­ers’ view of the beach.

Fur­ther in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the pro­posal led him to con­clude town of­fi­cials lacked trans­parency in the for­mu­la­tion and pas­sage of the bath­room fa­cil­ity.

“The story had quickly be­come about self- serv­ing gov­ern­ment, de­ceit, lies, breaches in process, il­le­gal­ity, and the im­po­si­tion of will ( at any cost) upon the elec­torate that has been made im­po­tent by crony pol­i­tics,” Wal­shon wrote.

“From our stand­point, it’s frus­trat­ing and dis­heart­en­ing that we spent the last sev­eral years work­ing on this and fol­low­ing the town’s pro­cesses,” said Jen­nifer Fava, di­rec­tor of West­port’s Parks and Recre­ation Depart­ment that spear­headed the bath­room pro­posal. There have been 15 pub­lic meet­ings and hear­ings on the pro­posal since 2017 and even more in prior years, Fava said, not­ing all of town’s lan­duse bod­ies ap­proved the project.

“What started as an ini­tia­tive to re­place porta- pot­ties has opened up a con­ver­sa­tion about dis­abil­ity rights and ac­cess to pub­lic fa­cil­i­ties,” said Jim Ross, a strong pro­po­nent of the project and chair of the West­port Com­mis­sion on Peo­ple with Dis­abil­i­ties.

Many mem­bers of the com­mis­sion have spo­ken in sup­port of the bath­room fa­cil­ity, say­ing the lack of an ADA- com­pli­ant re­stroom on South Beach makes it in­ac­ces­si­ble to those with dis­abil­i­ties.

“We un­for­tu­nately live in a seg­re­gated so­ci­ety for peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties,” Ross said, adding the RTM’s ap­proval of the bath­room fa­cil­ity was a his­tor­i­cal civil rights vote for peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties in West­port.

So­phie Vaughan / Hearst Con­necti­cut Me­dia

Jay Wal­shon spoke at the Nov. 13 Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Town Meet­ing against fund­ing for a pro­posed ADA com­pli­ant re­stroom fa­cil­ity on South Compo Beach.

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