Beach rights, wrongs

Neighbors and the city say the Lytle road end is too popular.

What drew Jamie Fritts to the Lytle Road beach Sunday afternoon could be expressed in two words: “southern exposure.”

The broad crescent of shoreline, the priceless view across Rich Passage, the sand, the sun – especially the sun – all added up to what the Manzanita resident described as “incredible...the best beach on the island.”

He was, as it happened, sitting on private land. And he appreciated the conflict, between his “kind of liberal” desire for public shoreline use, versus “how, from a liability standpoint and an aesthetic standpoint, (neighbors) wouldn’t want people traipsing through their front yards.”

“Looking forward,” Fritts concluded, “we’ll respect that.”

Others may not, as the dynamic between public access at the 40-foot-wide right of way and the private interests of the property owners on either side has stirred emotions at the road end off Pleasant Beach Drive.

Neighbors say that on any sunny day, the site is overrun by non-residents, sometimes 75 or 100 strong, who overwhelm the few parking spaces and sprawl beyond the formal public access and onto private beaches.

Complaints include excessive noise and other nuisances during the day – the city installed a porta-potty, after complaints of children “going” in the sand – and illicit activities by youths after dark. Beach fires have been left unattended; condoms and drug paraphernalia have been found.

“The issue is not that we don’t want people to walk up and down the beach,” said Kay Walsh, a Lytle Road resident. “The issue is when they go in front of somebody’s house and set up their beach umbrella with their three families’ worth of kids, and then get upset when you ask them to move (back) to the road end.”

The overcrowding has served to keep neighbors from enjoying their own beach, Lytle Road resident Chuck Estin said.

“On a nice day, you don’t want to be around here,” he said. “We used to come down here and have barbecues regularly. Now we don’t even try.”

After consulting with the City Council’s public works committee and the city Road Ends Committee – which designated the right of way for general access a decade ago – neighbors hope to reestablish order.

More than a dozen residents turned out for a work party Sunday morning, with a goal of better delineating where public access ends and private property begins.

Broad ships’ ropes were installed to give a visual representation of the road-end boundaries, and new signs were installed.

A kiosk includes rules of access and directs recreationists to other public beaches in the area; Fort Ward State Park is just down the road, as is Blakely Harbor Park.

Early on the brilliant afternoon, several families showed up with beach blankets and buckets of toys; two vehicles then rolled in with kayaks atop.

As neighbors explained the project and the right-of-way boundaries, several families moved to within the designated public area; others picked up and left.

By mid-afternoon, though, the reaction turned to what Walsh described as “open hostility.”

Walsh said neighbors were accused of trying to usurp what some visitors saw as a public park.

By the end of the evening, one of the new signs had been stolen.

“One party of eight just covered up the (private property) sign and went where they wanted to go,” she said. “The reaction has just been anger.

“I suppose we should have anticipated that. They think it’s a public beach.”

Little Lytle

The road end was designated for public use in 1995, part of the city’s ongoing effort to establish water access and viewing areas at nearly six dozen locations.

But access is supposed to be restricted to the 40-foot-wide right of way from the pavement down to the water.

The rest of the beach is said to be under private ownership in the 200-odd-home Pleasant Beach tract, deeded in 1911.

Homes in the tract include the Beck Road and Pleasant Beach neighborhoods, and properties as far away as Fort Ward.

Councilwoman Christine Rolfes, who lives nearby and visits the road end several times a week, said she sympathizes with neighbors.

“I agree with them completely that last summer was a madhouse down there,” she said. “It was very crowded, and people were really using it as a park. It’s not big enough to use as a park.”

The new boundary markers, she said, are “constructive and tasteful.” The council is considering further restrictions on parking and hours of use.

The beach’s popularity reflects on the ongoing demand for water access by a burgeoning population; of the island’s approximately 50 miles of shoreline, only 2.7 miles are in public ownership, in 72 different segments.

Rolfes said she hopes new public beaches will make Lytle Road less in demand. The proposed Pritchard Park on the south side of Eagle Harbor boasts a wide swath of sand, while another beach was purchased on Point White Drive over the winter using city open space funds.

Walsh praised council and Road End Committee members for their assistance.

“The city is being very responsive,” she said, “which surprises some and heartens others.”

“We’re all islanders,” she added. “We like our neighbors, and we don’t mind people coming down here. But they’ve stretched us to the point of, ‘I’m mad and I’m not going to take it anymore.’”

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