WESTPORT — Upon the recommendation of the disability community, the Board of Finance approved nearly $1 million for a restroom facility on South Compo Beach on Wednesday, despite the cry of pickleball players who say the bathroom will block their view of the beach.
“There’s a bit of insensitivity there, for people who are in the middle of enjoying a very active sport themselves, to complain that their view is being impeded at the expense of a whole swath of the population who can’t access that side of the beach at all without this,” said Marina Derman, a mother of two disabled children and a member of the Westport Commission on People with Disabilities.
Several others with disabilities and parents of children with disabilities also spoke in support of the proposal and described the difficulty of enjoying South Beach without access to an ADA-compliant bathroom.
Pickleball players and other residents insisted their opposition to replacing the port-a-potties on South Beach with a restroom facility and storage room is not because they are opposed to the disability community or new bathrooms, but rather because they believe other locations exist for the facility that would not block view of the beach.
Opponents said building the bathroom would also prevent expansion of more pickleball courts to the location.
“Now that we are finally aware that this proposal will forever eliminate recreational expansion on that priceless real estate, do residents really want this proposal?” resident Jay Walshon said.
Walshon said the approval process did not include sufficient room for public input, although Parks and Recreation Department Director Jennifer Fava said community feedback about the bathrooms was solicited at nine public meetings since 2013.
Additionally, Walshon and other opponents said the price tag, at $840,000, was too high for a restroom facility. Recently retired Public Works Department Director Pete Ratkiewich, who is now serving as a consultant on the project, said the cost is due to the demands of FEMA compliance and ensuring the waterfront facility will endure storms.
Many finance board members appeared skeptical of the price as well, but said the facility was a capital investment that will endure in years to come. In the end, the board voted 6-1 in favor of the proposal, with Michael Rea the sole dissenter. The board should be able to accommodate all groups and constituents in its decisions, Rea said.
“I think it’s great that people are playing pickleball. I know it’s a very popular sport, but we have to share in Westport and there’s a give and take. You can still use the pickleball courts and that’s terrific,” finance board member Lee Caney said.
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