The town is once again considering a deal that would allow the Madison Beach Hotel to use, and perhaps take ownership of, the town-owned, 6,150-square-foot rectangular grassy strip of land adjacent to the hotel, in exchange for a 2,030-square-foot triangular plot of beach across the street currently owned by Madison Beach Hotel.
Two deals are being considered, one short term and another long term. The short-term deal would also have the hotel pay $11,000 for the use of the property this season. The long-term deal, which would be subject to a referendum, would involve conveying the land to the hotel in exchange for the beach area, and would have the hotel pay an additional $100,000.
Madison Beach & Recreation Commission Chairman Tom Banisch says the deal is a good one because it will formalize and codify the way both plots of land are currently being used. A formal deal also will allow the town to better deal with potential liability issues, he said.
Hotel using town property, town residents using hotel property informally for many, many years
The grassy strip has been used informally by the Madison Beach Hotel for as long as anyone can remember, town officials say. And residents of the town sometimes use the Madison Beach Hotel-owned beach as if it is owned by the town, Banisch said.
Banisch said the Beach & Recreation Commission also plans to allow the Madison Beach Hotel to use a grassy plot of land at the Surf Club for overflow parking on an as-needed basis for $375 per use, subject to certain black out dates including July 4th and Memorial Day.
The Board of Selectmen Monday morning told Banisch to start drawing up the paperwork that would explain the deal as proposed in its entirety. Selectman Joan Walker voted in favor of having the paperwork drawn up so that the board could vote on the specifics. At the same time, she expressed concern about giving a private entity sole and exclusive use of the town-owned grassy strip, without first determining whether Madison residents are using it.
Neighborhood groups may be using grassy strip for impromptu celebrations
Walker said it was her understanding that some neighborhood groups use the grassy strip to host barbecues while using the town-owned West Wharf Beach across the street. Both Walker and Selectman Joe MacDougald said they have received many phone calls from town residents concerned about the disposition of that piece of property, about traffic in that area, and the town's ongoing negotiations with the hotel.
Both Walker and MacDougald said they would like to hear from town residents about the proposal currently on the table, if anyone is interested in providing input.
Banisch said at the Board of Selectmen meeting Monday morning that the current deal would be set up so that Madison Beach Hotel would be allowed to use the grassy strip for the 2012 beach season, for $11,000. He said the Beach & Recreation Commission arrived at that figure by calculating how much it might cost to rent the property for about three times a week over the course of the season. In addition to the $11,000, the town also would get the use of the Madison Beach Hotel-owned triangular piece of beach adjacent to the town-owned West Wharf Beach across the street from the hotel.
Town-owned beach property in between sand dune and in front of "Rocks" not part of this deal
The town, under the current deal, would retain ownership of beach property in front of the town-owned sand dune that is adjacent to the grassy strip.
Banisch said the Beach & Recreation Commission also is proposing a long-term deal that would give the hotel the town-owned grassy strip in exchange for $100,000 and the hotel-owned beach property adjacent to West Wharf Beach, in front of the "Fish House" property at 91 West Wharf Road, owned by the Duques family.
Such a deal involving a long-term lease or sale would have to go to referendum and/or town meeting, town officials said.
Hotel to use Surf Club for overflow parking
Banisch also said at the meeting Monday morning that the commission has agreed to allow the Madison Beach Hotel to use a specific area at the Surf Club for overflow parking as needed, for $375 per event.
Banisch said that the valet parking company hired by Madison Beach Hotel was able to fit 100 cars in the Madison Beach Hotel parking lot during recent events, which was much more than they anticipated. To further alleviate issues that might be created by parking, Banisch said the hotel told the town it is asking its employees to use the commuter lot and is then using a shuttle van to get them in to work, so that they don't have to park at the hotel.
In addition, the hotel currently is using a small piece of wetlands at the end of Parker Avenue for employee parking. Several employees parked there Monday afternoon before the start of their 4 p.m. shift. Neighbors said it has been going on for about a week and that a car got stuck over the weekend because the land is so wet. Lou Carrier, president of Distinctive Hospitality Group, which is managing the hotel, said that it is not a long-term arrangement.
Parking lot now, garden later
"No, no, no, no, no. We will not be having employees park there for the long term," he said Monday afternoon.
The Duques family, which owns the hotel, also owns the property at the end of Parker Avenue being used for employee parking. Carrier said long term plans for that plot of land include turning it into some sort of garden. Parker Avenue neighbors said they have been told it will be turned in to an herb garden. They said that, of course, would be preferable to having it used for parking.
Several Parker Avenue neighbors on Monday afternoon, who asked not to be identified by name, said they are confident the Duques family will do the right thing by the neighborhood.
Family owns home at 15 Parker Avenue, purchases home at 11 Parker Avenue
The Duques family not only owns the hotel, and the land at the end of Parker Avenue, the family also owns a private home at 15 Parker Avenue, which is one house away from the Madison Beach Hotel.
That home was used as administrative offices for the hotel during the construction of the new hotel. And the Duques family recently purchased a private home at 11 Parker Avenue, in between 15 Parker Avenue and the hotel. The home at 11 Parker Avenue has a lot in the back, between Parker Lane and Parker Avenue. Neighbors have been told a garden might go in there as well.
Carrier said he did not know what the family is planning for 11 Parker Avenue. "It's a private residence and that was a private acquisition," he said. "It's not part of the hotel land."
Use of Surf Club for parking would be subject to black out dates
The use of the Surf Club for overflow parking would not be allowed on certain black out dates, including July 4th and Memorial Day, Banisch said. He said most of that use would be in the evening, but that some afternoons might be allowed as well.
After the meeting, Banisch said he did not think that the hotel would be using the Surf Club that often, because they have other less expensive options in town, including the Madison Country Club, which has offered to let them use their lot at a rate of $5 per car. He said the hotel is exploring other options as well, that might be less expensive for the hotel.
Carrier agreed that the hotel does not plan to use the Surf Club on a regular basis. He said the hotel has been able to fit up to 112 cars into the lot immediately behind the hotel on Parker Avenue. "I don't know if we're ever going to us it," he said of the Surf Club parking. If the hotel does use it, however, he said they would use it under the terms offered by the Beach & Recreation Commission.
Concern about speed versus safety
Selectman Walker said during the selectmen's meeting Monday that she was concerned about the Surf Club parking arrangement. She wondered whether the valet parkers might be more interested in getting cars to and from the hotel quickly, rather than safely and within posted speed limits. "Who would provide oversight," she asked.
Banisch replied that the hotel has had discussions with members of the Madison Board of Police Commissioners, which acts as the town's traffic authority, and that they would be monitoring it.
"The speed limits are posted and we expect they would be obeyed," he said. "They would have to stop at the gate."
Speed humps to be installed around crosswalk between playing fields and parking lot/beach near entrance of Surf Club
Both Banisch and Beach & Recreation Director Scot Erskine said that the town plans to install speed humps in the area of a walkthrough from playing fields on one side of the road through the Surf Club, to the other side, where there is parking and the beach.
Banisch told the selectmen he did not think the hotel would be using the Surf Club a lot. He said it would mainly be in the middle of the summer, when they had a full hotel, a full restaurant, and a full bar.
Selectman Al Goldberg complimented Banisch on his efforts to move the proposal forward, and asked whether the town would have the option of canceling the parking arrangement if it created problems. Banisch said the town would be able to do that.
One year trial, could be canceled
"We'll have a one year trial, if it's not working we can cancel it," he said.
Both Banisch and the selectmen seemed to agree that a formal arrangement--one that includes the short-term land exchange proposal under consider, the long-term land exchange being contemplated, and the parking--with the hotel might serve to relieve the town of some liability if there is a problem on the grassy strip at some point.
While Walker agreed it would be worth evaluating such a proposal in detail, she remained concerned about providing the privately owned hotel with exclusive use of town property.
Problem with exclusive arrangement
"I have heard that there are neighborhood events there," she said. "Most of them are impromptu. But I've heard of people saying they've had a barbecue there, while they enjoy the beach below. I have to say, I have a problem with the exclusivity. Every resident or property owner should be able to use it."
If such use by residents is allowed, and then nobody uses it, Walker said she might reconsider her concerns.
First Selectman Fillmore McPherson said allowing residents to use it, assuming they are also charged, could create bookkeeping issues. "But we do the bookkeeping on other town-owned properties," Walker replied.
Concern about liquor and liability
MacDougald said he was concerned that the grassy strip is located near the Madison Beach Hotel bar, where liquor is served and that that might increase the chances of a problem. Under that scenario, a formal contract with the hotel that allows them to assume liablity would be beneficial for the town, he said.
"But the bar is not supposed to allow drinks outside," Walker said. "They need to follow the law on that."
The selectmen agreed that a contract passing liability to the hotel would not prevent someone from suing the town in the event of a problem. But it could play a role in whether such a suit was successful, they said.
Current proposal preferable to past proposals for some
Selectman Diane Stadterman said she found the current proposal better than some past proposals, whereby the town would have given up beach property in front of the hotel as well.
While the hotel balked at a deal earlier this year, similar to the one being discussed Monday at the selectmen's meeting, Banisch said his understanding is that hotel officials are currently motivated to make a deal, now that they better understand the details of what is being proposed. He encouraged the selectmen to move forward quickly.
"I'd like to start telling people about this and get to a public hearing as soon as possible," he said. "We need to start educating people about this to make sure they understand this deal. This is a win-win."
Town could lose use of beach, moorings without current deal
If the town does not gain ownership of the hotel-owned triangular plot of beach adjacent to West Wharf Beach, Banisch said, it could lose not only use of that beach but three moorings connected with that property. McPherson also noted that the hotel-owned beach is often used as a sort of wading beach for small children.
Selectman Goldberg asked Banisch to clarify whether residents in fact would be barred from using the grassy strip, either under the short-term arrangement being contemplated for this summer, of the long-term deal that would have to go to referendum.
In practice, Banisch said, the grassy strip is traversed by lots of people on a daily basis in the summer, including town residents and people using the hotel.
"They are not looking to bar access"
"It's a grey area," he said. "Nobody from the hotel is saying 'get off our grass,' they are not looking to bar access."
The selectmen asked Banisch to move forward with developing a specific proposal in writing that they could review and act upon.
In the meantime, if Madison Beach Hotel wants to use the grassy strip between now and their next meeting, which will be in about two weeks, the town and the hotel could use existing town forms used to rent out town property, they said.
Editor's note: This article was corrected at 5 p.m. on Monday, May 14, 2012 to correctly characterize the size of the lots under consideration. Information about employee parking was added as well.