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Madison Beach Hotel Offered Deal On Grassy Strip, Valet Parking

The town's Beach & Recreation Commission, following a meeting Thursday morning, plans to offer Madison Beach Hotel the use of a portion of the Surf Club for parking, and the town-owned grassy strip near hotel for entertainment.

 

The town's Beach & Recreation Commission, during a meeting Thursday morning at town campus, voted in favor of renting Madison Beach Hotel the grassy strip in front of the hotel on a seasonal basis for a seasonal rate of $11,000. They also voted in favor of allowing Madison Beach Hotel to use a grass parking area at the Surf Club for valet parking, at a rate of $375 per event, after 5 p.m.

The vote to allow the hotel to use the town-owned grassy strip adjacent to the hotel was unanimous, with members Katherine Lawton, Paul Maxwell, Jeff Rosenberg, Scott Zimmerman, and Chairman Tom Banisch voting in favor. The vote to allow the hotel to use the Surf Club for parking was 4 to 1, with Lawton voting against it.

As the meeting, Madison Police Commissioner Thomas Cartledge participated in the discussion and brought up several concerns. He said the only concern of the Madison Board of Police Commissioners, which acts as the town's traffic commission, relates to safety and traffic.

The police department interested in the outcome

"The police department is interested in the outcome," Cartledge said during the meeting. "We have no interest in getting involved with the location or the fee. Our concern is finding out what arrangements have been made. We want to know location and the time of the beginning of the event, and the end of the event."

Cartledge said he was told by Lou Carrier, head of Distinctive Hospitality Group, which is managing the hotel, that the hotel had an open contract with the Beach & Recreation Commission for all Saturdays and Sundays during summer afternoon and evenings. Cartledge said Carrier said there already are 22 events booked and paid for at the hotel between the beginning of May and Sept. 15, 2012. The average attendance is 94 people, ranging from 10 at some events and 150 at others, Cartledge said.

Cartledge also noted that the hotel, which has 84 parking spaces available, also has 33 rooms, a restaurant that seats 150, open seating at the bar, and sightseers at any given time. In addition, the hotel staff likely will need parking somewhere, he said.

Expecting a problem when it comes to parking

"We haven't even discussed where employees are going to park," Cartledge said. "They're couching that, saying 'they'll be there.' Of course they'll be there. But they're not going to be walking in from where they live. They'll need parking somewhere."

"Everybody on our end expects it to be a big problem," he said of the parking issue.

Cartledge recommended the commission take steps to avoid potential problems at the Surf Club entrance, with the valet parking crew coming and going. He said, if necessary, the police department will assign police officers nearby the hotel and Surf Club to make sure speed limits and other safety rules are being followed. He said the police department would not make exceptions for the hotel or hotel guests, that they would be held to the same standards as town residents. What happens if guests park illegally, he was asked.

"They'll get a ticket," Cartledge said. "The chief intends to enforce all parking laws of the town."

List of events already booked and paid for runs from May 5 to Sept. 15

"Our understanding is that they will be using a professional valet service," Cartledge said. "These drivers will be making minimum wage. And everybody has been at an event where somebody slips a $10 bill to the valet and says 'my car first' and maybe we'll get someone going a little faster than they should."

Cartledge provided the commission with a list of events already booked at the hotel, provided to him by the hotel . The schedule starts May 5th with a wedding from 6 p.m. to 12 a.m. that includes 75 to 100 guests and ends on Sept 15 with an event for 150 guests from 6 p.m. to 12 a.m. Included on the schedule are many weddings, bridal showers, breakfast events, rehearsals, and brunches. One event, on June 17th, starts at 9 a.m. and includes 80 guests.

The schedule provided by Cartledge to the commission was from the hotel and did not reflect block out dates that might be mandated by the town. Commission members also said that the hotel's understanding of the arrangement was different than their understanding of what has been under discussion.

A fundamental difference

Banisch noted that the deal is being offered on a trial basis only and that the commission agreed to evenings only. He also said that the commission, if there is a problem, could cancel at any time.

Maxwell said it may be that the hotel management did not have a complete understanding of what was under discussion.

"There is a fundamental difference between what we think is going on and what they think is going on," Maxwell said. "They think it's carte blanche and here's a list and get out of our way."

Not a negotiation

Both Cartledge and commission members noted that Carrier has a strong personality and is often forceful about asking for what he wants.

"Pushy or not pushy, this isn't a negotiation," Zimmerman said. "If they like it, great. If they don't like it they'll find somewhere else."

First Selectman Fillmore McPherson, who attended the beginning of the 7:30 a.m. meeting before having to leave for another early morning meeting, agreed. He said the town is doing its best to try to work something out for the hotel, in a way that also works for the town and its other residents. He said he hopes the commission finds a way to work out a deal suitable to both parties, a sentiment that was echoed by members of the commission, some of whom said they felt like they were trying to make the best of a difficult situation, since the hotel clearly does not have enough parking for its size.

An accommodation

"This is not a negotiation," McPherson said. "This is an accommodation to a town business. We want it to succeed. But it's not their Surf Club and it's not their West Wharf Beach. This commission is trying to help them out and that's where it stands."

Banisch said, "we can't be everything they want." He was adamant that the hotel abide by any agreement made. "If they can't live by the rules, we just don't do it anymore," he said.

Maxwell expressed concern about whether any deal would work out to the satisfaction of all parties.

"This has hair on it"

"This has hair on it," he said of the town's proposal and the difficulties surrounding it. "My concern is that some guy comes out of a wedding at 12:05 [in the morning] and stumbles down to the Surf Club to get his car out. Then what? That's our problem?"

Zimmerman noted that any problem like that would be the responsibility of the valet company and that they would have to clear all of the cars before midnight.

"But let's say that doesn't happen," Maxwell said.

Would it pass the Stop & Shop test?

Lawton, who voted against the parking proposal, said she had too many concerns to vote in favor of it. She and other commission members wondered, would it would pass the Stop & Shop test? In other words, would she and the commission members be able to make a case to the town residents that the commission acted in the best interests of the entire town? These conversations often take place informally at the Stop & Shop while people are shopping.

Several commission members said they would be able to make a case to their neighbors that the proposed deal is in the best interests of all involved. "We all want the hotel to succeed," Zimmerman said. "We want the deal to be fair and equitable ... they're worried about making a buck. We're worried about bumping into our neighbors at Stop & Shop, and them saying, 'what the heck did you do?'"

"How do you make the best of a bad situation?"

Lawton agreed.

"Well, for the people who object to this, for the people we run into at Stop & Shop, we tell them the hotel was built without enough parking places. So, how do you make the best of a bad situation? If I run into people at Stop & Shop and they complain, I'll tell them we've done the best we can do under difficult circumstances," Zimmerman said.

Banisch added that if the arrangement does not work out, it will be adjusted.

An objection to the number of events planned

Lawton agreed that she and other commission members want the hotel to succeed. She said she often walks by the hotel to see what kind of progress it is making, a practice shared by many others in this town. 

"I go down there and it's exciting and it's beautiful, but did they really need that big go-round in the parking lot?" Lawton said. The parking lot adjacent to the main entrance of the hotel facing Parker Avenue has a rounded decorative landscaped element in it that takes up some space.

She also noted that some of the town's cheer-leading squads sometimes use the grassy area at the Surf Club, now being offered for parking, for practice and wondered if the arrangement would disrupt that. But she said her main objection was the sheer number of events planned.

Dates listed subject to commission's approval

"That list scares me," she said.

Banisch noted that any dates listed were subject to the commission's approval.

Lawton also asked Beach & Recreation Director Scot Erskine whether providing the hotel with the use of the grassy area at the Surf Club precludes it from additional uses, such as boat storage. Erskine said while there is a waiting list for boat storage, that the Surf Club beach will not accommodate any more boats and that it is at its limit.

Other options under consideration

Commission members also noted the hotel has said it is considering other options, including the Stop & Shop parking lot, and the Madison Country Club parking lot.

Commission members asked McPherson at the beginning of the meeting whether there were other options in town, such as the Island Avenue School parking lot, the commuter lot, or the old Amtrak/Metro North parking lot. McPherson said the latter two belong to the state and that any request to use the Island Avenue School lot would have to be made to the town's Board of Education.

McPherson also said the selectmen thought the price being offered to the hotel on the grassy strip rental, next to the hotel, at $11,000 was too low.

Hotel offers $2,000 for rental of grassy strip next to hotel

Commissioners said during the meeting that the hotel thought the price being asked was too high, and that the hotel offered $2,000. Banisch also said that the McPherson had informed him that the selectmen wanted to weigh in on the rental of the grassy strip next to the hotel.

Some commission members agreed the deal could be perceived as a land lease, which would be subject to approval by the Board of Selectmen.

But they said they wanted to maintain control of the deal and that offering it as a rental would make it similar to rental of other Beach & Recreation facilities.

Specifics of deal being offered

The motion to offer the grassy strip in front of the hotel said that the Beach & Recreation Department will rent The Madison Beach Hotel the grass area in front of he hotel on a seasonal basis (6 months from 4/15 to 10/15) for a seasonal rate of $11,000 and would allow the hotel to use the grass area at any time during that period. The town will ask the hotel to provide adequate insurance to cover the possibility of lawsuits if an accident occurs on the property or other liability is incurred.

When it comes to parking at the Surf Club, the Beach & Recreation Commission will allow the use of the grass parking area for valet parking at the rate of $375 per event. The parking will be available only after 5 p.m. and the commission is specifying that all vehicles must be removed from the park by 12 a.m., so that town staff can secure the park for the night.

Any cars that are left after 12 a.m. would have to be picked up the following day.

Hotel asked to respond before May 4th, next meeting of commission

The commission also specified that it will supply a list of block out dates due to large events taking place at the Surf Club or Strong Field. The dates will depend in part on schedules as set by the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference and local sports groups.

Chairman Tom Banisch said following the meeting that the town will ask that Madison Beach Hotel make a decision as to whether it would like to accept these terms prior to the next meeting of the commission on May 4th. Banisch said he hopes to hear back from the hotel well before May 4th.

Contract required

Banisch also said that the deals would require a contract, and that the contract would specify that these arrangements are being made on a trial basis only until the end of the calendar year at which point they will be re-evaluated by the town.

Banisch also said the town needs to look into whether the town is covered from liability relating to work ongoing at the hotel property now.

Mike Ott, the town's public works director and engineer, said there are plans to re-sod the lawn adjacent to the hotel by April 20.

Matt April 13, 2012 at 02:20 AM
If Stop & Shop wanted to rent parking from the surf club, would the town allow it? If the liquor store by Hammonasset wanted to rent parking at the Griswold Landfill, would the town allow it? If RJ's wanted to rent a strip of parking spaces in front of their store for a year, would the town allow it? If I wanted to build a restaurant for 150 people with 10 parking spaces and no public parking nerby, would the town allow it? If I wanted to lease a piece of the Asinine Acres field for my own private party use all summer, would the town allow it. I think we know the answers to all of the above is obviously no. They keep talking about helping them solve a difficult situation as if the hotel is a victim of bad luck. It's not like their parking and real estate vanished. They knowingly (and admitted to) building a facility without proper parking and without a piece of land that they apparently need. Yet they proceeded with it anyway and our town "leaders" approved it. As far as I'm concerned, they can use the commuter lot and rent a shuttle bus. This is not our problem to solve for them and it is not fair to everyone else in town who doesn't get bailed out.
Charles April 13, 2012 at 10:37 AM
Someone from one of the zoning boards needs to explain how a building this size was approved without enough parking? I also would like to see how a valet style parking would survive almost 1/2 mile away? So I show up for a function and have to wait 20 minutes for the valet kid to drive a car to the surf club back lot and jog back to get my car? I am thinking that there are a few questions to be answered by our town before a child or pet gets hit by a car racing up and down the Surf Club entrance road.
Diogenese April 13, 2012 at 02:20 PM
Mdison Zoning Board," Where are you "..........
Elizabeth April 13, 2012 at 02:37 PM
I am surprised that there are only 2 comments in response to this story. A good majority of the residents of this town were totally dismissed - our officials and the hotel were going to do what they wanted to do regardless of public opinion. As a resident, I will avoid this area at all costs this summer. No beach pass for me. The hotel is a monster and while it may be somewhat attractive, it looks completely out of place at West Wharf. This area of town should be for the purpose of relaxation. As far as I can see, there is going to be nothing but chaos there. I really feel sorry for the people who live in this area, some of whom have owned homes there for ages. No wonder people have zero faith in their elected officials!
Herb April 13, 2012 at 05:05 PM
I seriously question whether the Town, and in particular, the Beach & Rec commission have the right or the authority to commit town owned property to any private entity. I believe any commitment of Town property requires a Town Meeting or a Referendum vote. The citizens run this town - or at least should. The apparent arrogance again demonstrates a lack of understanding between INAUGURATION and CORONATION!
eli104 April 13, 2012 at 05:16 PM
From the standpoint of "jogging" back and forth, the Hotel would do well to consider "staging" their valets, using two-way radios and as necessary, staged golf carts to get them back and forth to wherever they end up parking cars. The issue is, however, not just a "before 5pm" one. Remember, there are plenty of football games well into Friday evening in the winter, not to mention beach-goers who stay at the Surf Club late (until 8pm) in the peak summer months. What part of Surf Club parking are they talking about taking up? What happens when when the hotel has a party booked at 6pm and the lot is already full with the Visiting Football team?! Oh, and if they have a "full house" during the summer, do the Valets get a "free pass" to the beach parking? What if someone just goes to eat lunch and valets his car, then changes to bathing suit and heads off to the beach for the day. Do they have to pay for a the Beach Parking Pass? There are solutions here... but there are many, many, variables that need to be worked through.
Herb April 13, 2012 at 05:28 PM
By the way --- Did the Town provide permission to use the Grassy Strip in front of the Hotel for construction purposes? If so - is there an insurance policy protecting the Town from liability as well as the proper contract holding the Town harmless in the event of an accident. If I rent a room in the Old Town Hall, I, as a citizen of the Town of Madison, have to provide an insurance certificate to the Town.
Elizabeth April 13, 2012 at 06:04 PM
Pem - I posted a comment in regard to this article hours ago and it has not been put up. If I violated any of the posting rules (besides being critical of this so-called "deal"), can you please let me know what it is?
Elizabeth April 13, 2012 at 06:05 PM
In addition - I find it very hard to believe that only 2 other people posted comments on this story. Is there a problem with negative comments being directed toward MBH?
Pem McNerney (Editor) April 13, 2012 at 06:12 PM
Hi Elizabeth. Sorry for the delay. We are still having some technical glitches re commenting after a site update earlier this week. All comments made on this story have now been posted, I think the settings are correct and comments should flow in without delay. I'll try to keep an eye on it.
Ann April 13, 2012 at 07:38 PM
What happens on nights when there are football or soccer games and the valets need to sit in line for 20 minutes each way with the rest of the traffic going to those games? I tried leaving a soccer game in the middle of the game one night (to replenish hamburgers at the concession stand) and it took me 45 mins to get to stop and shop and back) Also, do you think it makes sense from a safety standpoint to have cars from a hotel event driving in large numbers past kids getting dropped off for youth baseball and soccer practice who traditionally walk across to the fields from the first parking lot anytime between 5 pm and dusk.
Tina W. April 13, 2012 at 07:56 PM
Ugh. What a mess. Why on earth is this parking problem (a MAJOR problem) being addressed after the permits are issued, after the construction is complete, after they start holding events there, right before the hotel opens? WHO IS RESPONSIBLE FOR THIS???
Liz April 13, 2012 at 08:20 PM
I'd like some assurances that they will in fact ticket and tow out of town cars parked at West Wharf during beach pass season. I also think that either the hotel or the patrons are going to have to foot the bill for full daily parking rates at the Surf Club. These patrons are going to be using our beaches and I don't see why they shouldn't pay for them just like everyone else.
Janet April 13, 2012 at 08:30 PM
The most logical place for the parking overflow is Island school. The town budget foots the bill for all school major maintenance, so why can't the town lease the parking lot without the BOE approval? And $375 per event is a joke... What about the extra police resource expense??
Janet April 13, 2012 at 08:37 PM
I'd love to see the disclosure about the magnatude of the events that was in the zoning permit application...
Diogenese April 13, 2012 at 09:29 PM
Still waiting ! "Zoning Board where are You ? "
Herb April 13, 2012 at 11:22 PM
I may have this a little wrong, but it is my understanding that once the Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) rules on a piece of land, then the future controlling agency is the ZBA not our P&Z. Therefore P&Z NEVER got a chance to review this application. I firmly believe that had this application gone before P&Z, it never would have passed without adequate parking.
Merton W McAvoy April 13, 2012 at 11:35 PM
It appears that our town fathers ,the alleged stewards of our public land, are again falling all over each other to privatize West Wharf. So what's new? For forty some years they have turned a Nelson's eye to the use of our grass area. During all that time they have permitted it's use by the hotel,without compensation to the town. This use included the sale of liquor and food for all sorts of festivites. At times the hotel actually charged admission to enter the grass area. It is not clear if the town,in the past, approved the sale of liquor on it's property or if a proper state permit was granted. Granting the hotel use of this property will exacerbate what is already a hopeless parking situation to the tune of perhaps 150 additional parking spaces. Our grass area is located in a residental zone. Commercial use is not permitted. The previous commercial use apparently commenced after the enactment of the zoning regulations.Thus there is no established nonconforming use. Commercial use is not permitted.
Herb April 13, 2012 at 11:41 PM
Thank you Merton W McAvoy. A very good point. The land belongs to the citizens and should be for their use.
Charles Walz April 19, 2012 at 10:31 PM
Has anyone considered that for five to six months a year the surf club parking is over capacity and full with town residents and the non Madison residents that the state legislature has requiered us to let in to the Surf Club. Is the Beach and Rec department going to set aside parking spots for the Hotel and then turn away Madison Resdents from the Surf Club? The town purchased the Surf Club for the towns use, not for the convience of the Madson Beach Hotel. I assume the Madison Police will inforce the no parking on the street during the summer months. The residents can not park in front of their own homes. Charlie
Nicholas M Schaivone, Sr. May 15, 2012 at 10:16 PM
Those of us who have been around town long enough knew this would happen. The parking is only the beginning . Yet another bad deal for the town. enough said
Nicholas M Schaivone, Sr. May 15, 2012 at 10:22 PM
As always Charlie you're right on the money
Nicholas M Schaivone, Sr. May 15, 2012 at 10:29 PM
It appears not much has changed........ P&Z still puts these greedy developers first and the good people of Madison last. How we doing with the revenue the Hearth at Tuxis Pond was supposed to generate. That actually cost the town money!!
Nicholas M Schaivone, Sr. May 15, 2012 at 10:44 PM
Very well said !!
Nicholas M Schaivone, Sr. May 15, 2012 at 10:49 PM
Logical would have been leaving the wharf alone. I think one of the articles I read way back in the beginning of this mess was the "It's my family's plan to maintain the charm of the hotel and West Wharf " What a crock!!
Janet May 15, 2012 at 11:09 PM
I passed by the evening of May 5th. Parking lot filled to the gills, and every space in West Wharf beach lot was filled as well. My husband and i could not find a place to park. I guess they are using that lot also???
Nicholas M Schaivone, Sr. May 15, 2012 at 11:34 PM
I'm guessing watching the sun set at West Wharf is no longer an option for us common folk!!! Thanks P&Z once again you gave the good people of Madison the shaft. Do all the members of P&Z have Carte Blanche @ the wharf??
Nicholas M Schaivone, Sr. May 15, 2012 at 11:48 PM
Where is the "small town charm" Mr Duques ? Madison P&Z you have been Duque I mean duped !
Janet May 16, 2012 at 12:37 AM
We have a new meeting and event facility in Madison... Right on one of our three beaches.... A tiny town beach, now dwarfed by a massive structure. Weddings will be held outside on the grassy strip... Every weekend, from may through October. Residents will not have a place to park in West Wharf lot after the gatekeeper leaves his post. By the way, there are a few rooms in which to sleep in the event facility. Thanks, P&Z!!!!
Nicholas M Schaivone, Sr. May 16, 2012 at 12:54 AM
I think it might be time to occupy the Wharf..... Maybe a little get together of the common folk on the grassy strip camping out. during one of them there fancy events

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