Preserve the unique character and beauty of the Madison Shoreline

For generations the residents of Madison have enjoyed the tranquil beauty and Southern New England charm of the Madison Shoreline. Many families from all parts of town taught their children to fish from the pier and rocks at West Wharf and have enjoyed its beach and a cooling swim in the Long Island Sound. Today that ability is diminished and the future character and beauty of an important part of the Madison Shoreline is threatened. The Madison Beach Preservation Association, Inc. was formed to address this threat and has accomplished some clear legal victories. Nevertheless, there is more work to be done and MBPA needs your support.

 

When the construction of the new Madison Beach Hotel was approved, the general public expected the Town of Madison government and its officials to enforce the conditions specified in the variance. However, this has not occurred and the resulting issues extend well beyond the effect on the Hotel’s immediate neighbors. The Hotel has extended its commercial activities to additional residentially zoned properties and expanded its commercial activities beyond those permitted under the Madison Zoning Regulations.  It is the concern of MBPA that if the Town of Madison does not act to enforce the previously agreed to conditions, it will create a growing commercial area that will overwhelm this residential section or perhaps others along the Madison shoreline and further disturb the tranquility for which it is cherished. We must all act now to preserve our beloved shoreline.

The Grassy Strip land swap and the “West Wharf Zoning District” 

Madison residents have twice voted down the Grassy Strip land swap. However, the Town government has ignored the clear will of the voters. MBPA successfully sought the help of the State Government to stop the land swap, relying on State law that protects public parks.  This is an important legal victory, yet without acknowledgement and subsequent enforcement by the Town of Madison, the Hotel continues use of the Grassy Strip just as if it owned it, which MBPA believes violates State law. The Town of Madison, not the Madison Beach Hotel, owns this area of parkland for the benefit of the public.

When the Town approved the creation of the “West Wharf Zoning District,” MBPA supported a legal challenge to this spot-zoning act. In another important victory, the State Court invalidated the new zoning, designating it an “illegal act.” The State Appeals Court subsequently declined to hear an appeal by the Town of this ruling.  As a result of these two rulings, the Hotel remains in violation of zoning regulations. Yet our Town government refuses to enforce the law against the Hotel. 

Violation of Zoning Regulations

 The Madison Beach Hotel remains a non-conforming use in a residentially zoned district. The plain language of Madison Zoning Regulations prohibits the expansion or extension of non-conforming uses (see Section12.3), such as a commercial business in a residential area. Yet The Madison Beach Hotel has both extended its non-conforming uses to additional parcels of land and expanded non-conforming uses beyond those that existed prior to the Zoning Regulations.

In clear violation of these zoning regulations, The Hotel has extended its commercial operations to other properties including the Grassy Strip, Church Lane, the public West Wharf Beach and various parking locations beyond the Hotel premises.  The Hotel conducts wedding hall events, outdoor catered parties, outdoor movies, and concerts beyond the Hotel boundaries. At those events the Hotel provides food and beverages including alcohol for a profit. Each of these additional properties is in a Residentially Zoned District where such commercial uses are not permitted.  

The Hotel has expanded its non-conforming uses beyond those that existed before the adoption in the 1950’s of the Madison Zoning Regulations, at a time before the Hotel even had a bar. Expanded non-conforming uses include:  operation of a Spa; operation of a Gym and Fitness Center; the operation of an outdoor movie theater; operating a catering business; the booking and promotion of outdoor concerts on the Grassy Strip; and the operation of a Wedding Event Venue. None of these activities are permitted uses in a residentially zoned district (in accordance with section 3.2 of the Madison Zoning regulations) and none of these existed prior to the adoption of the Madison Zoning regulations. Accordingly, each of these expanded non-conforming uses is not permitted by the Madison Zoning Regulations (section 12.3).

Beyond regulatory violations, the Town of Madison and the Hotel are causing real harm by limiting public access to the West Wharf Park and Beach, reducing the quality of life in the neighborhood and adversely affecting property values. Thousands of individuals attend the Hotel’s scheduled music concerts and film series causing excess traffic, parking problems, and noise. As many as thirty catered outdoor events by the Hotel in a short summer season greatly disrupt the use of the park and the West Wharf Beach by the general public.  Weddings at the Hotel are particularly disruptive because they are often multi-day events that usually include photo sessions and/or ceremonies on the Beach and West Wharf resulting in extra catering, associated vendor activity, and amplified music. There have been occasions when Madison residents have been asked to relocate from the public Beach to accommodate a wedding function. Catering trucks park on Church Lane and block Beach access. The outdoor movies also block Church Lane, which is a neighborhood access way used for generations to the West Wharf Public Beach.  The outdoor movies add to the light and noise pollution already created by the oversized Hotel itself. 

 

Ongoing Litigation

 

MBPA is supporting an additional lawsuit that seeks a ruling by the State Court to stop the illegal expansion and extension of the Hotel’s commercial activities.  This lawsuit would be unnecessary if the Town of Madison would enforce the existing zoning regulations.  Residents should not tolerate selective enforcement of zoning regulations and ignoring court rulings by the Town of Madison.  Selective enforcement gives the appearance of favoritism or a conflict of interest. Whether actual or perceived, both must be avoided.  All Madison residents must insist upon the Town’s enforcement of its current zoning regulations.  Additionally disturbing is the fact that the legal costs incurred by the Town of Madison to dispute the ruling were and continue to be borne by the Madison taxpayers. Ineptitude in government is one thing, but to intentionally flout zoning regulations and court rulings is another more serious matter that must be rectified.

Our parks and recreational areas should be preserved for the benefit of all our current residents and future generations.


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