A part-time Newport resident* who also lives in Miami, Florida has threatened legal action against both Gooseberry and Hazard’s Beaches citing public access concerns.
Brooke Richter, 55, of Miami, Florida and Newport, RI, has retained Middletown Attorney Amy Rice to represent her in a quest to make Gooseberry essentially a public beach for Newport residents. *(Ms. Richter voted from her Miami address in-person in Florida for the March 2020 Presidential Primaries. She voted by absentee mail ballot from her Newport address in the November 2020 General Election.)
Attorney Rice has written to Newport City Manager Joe Nicholson, City Solicitor Chris Behan and Anthony Desisto, General Counsel of the RI Coastal Resources Management Council demanding that Gooseberry:
1. Create free resident pedestrian access to the beach/shore when the beach is available to stockholders, and
2. Create a pricing structure for parking reflecting resident fees aligned with stockholders whenever the beach is available to stockholders. (Gooseberry can charge non-residents whatever fee it deems appropriate.)
Gooseberry Beach President George Loftus responded to her claims in a communication with Newport City Manager Joe Nicholson:
..the claims by Ms. Richter and Ms. Rice are wholly without merit. In multiple communications with both Ms. Richter and Ms. Rice, we have pointed out the flaws of their legal arguments that Gooseberry is in violation of the terms of the deed, providing ample evidence and statutory citations. In addition, we extended the offer for Ms. Richter to seek a seasonal pass, which is available to all Newport residents. To date, Ms. Richter, neither individually nor through her attorney, have sought a seasonal beach pass.
In addition to shareholder access to the beach and facilities, Gooseberry Beach issues seasonal parking passes for non-shareholders. It also makes daily passes available to the public, depending on beach capacity.
For the past 68 years the beach has been open to the public. This was true even during the COVID pandemic when Newport residents who were not shareholders could purchase a season pass.
During the 2020 season, Gooseberry, like every organization, imposed capacity limitations to comply with social distancing regulations. For the 2021 season, Gooseberry is again offering daily passes to the general public, subject to beach capacity limitations.
The safety of all beachgoers continues to be one of our top priorities. The explosion in the use of ride-share services in recent years has created an increasing public safety concern and additional strain on the beach and staff. On any given day during the summer, but even more dramatically on weekends, a line of ride-share automobiles pull over on Ocean Drive at the entrance to
Gooseberry to drop-off or pick up carloads of non-residents. The founding shareholders could never have envisioned the creation of the technology, i.e. ride share services, that has created this public safety hazard.
Ocean Drive is a very popular and busy road. It is also very narrow, without shoulders to pull over. The significant increase in drop-offs by ride-share services became dangerous to the point where Gooseberry had to employ a police officer to help direct traffic.
As stewards of Gooseberry, a private beach that is available to the public, we have an obligation to preserve this natural resource and ensure the safety of all those who enjoy the beach and facilities. Just as we did during the pandemic, we continually engage in discussions as a Board as to how we operate to maintain that balance.
Since 1952, the shareholders of Gooseberry Beach have prided themselves on serving as stewards of this beautiful natural resource while welcoming generations of Newport families and beyond to enjoy the beach and facilities, providing more public access than our 1952 deed from Newport Hospital even requires.
Loftus continued in a communication to beach members:
Earlier this year, Gooseberry was contacted by Brooke Richter notifying the Board of her intent to file a lawsuit claiming alleged breach of the terms of the 1952 deed agreement. Shortly thereafter, we were contacted by attorney Amy Rice notifying us of her intent to file a lawsuit on behalf of Ms. Richter.
The claims brought forth by Ms. Richter and her attorney are without merit. Since 1952, Gooseberry has continuously operated in compliance with the terms and intent of the deed agreement reached with Newport Hospital.
In multiple communications with both Ms. Richter and Ms. Rice, we have pointed out the flaws of their legal arguments that Gooseberry is in violation of the terms of the deed, providing ample evidence and statutory citations. Putting all that aside, we even extended the offer for Ms. Richter to seek a seasonal pass, which is available to all Newport residents. To date, Ms. Richter has not sought a seasonal beach pass.
The issue with Hazard’s Beach revolves around a locked gate located west of the beach. Hazard’s President Jay Lynch tells the Newport Daily News that he has never seen that gate open in 60 years. Through research, Lynch found that the gate provides access to the Grace Family’s private beach that borders Hazard’s and that the CRMC website lists no public right-of-way adjacent to Hazard’s Beach.
Attorney Rice responded “We have to get to the bottom of that,” when questioned the Newport Daily News.
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