SURRY— Public beach access is vital.
That was clear from a gymnasium full of residents who turned out for a special town meeting at the Surry school Monday to vote on whether the town should buy a parcel of land to secure public parking for the beloved Carrying Place Beach off Newbury Neck Road.
Some 200-plus residents voted unanimously in favor of purchasing the 11-acre parcel from the Mishara family for $215,000. The Mishara family has owned the property since 1979, according to Betsy Armstrong, chairwoman of the Board of Selectmen.
Armstrong said the public would be able to use the parking lot on the property again this week.
Barriers had been erected to prevent people from using the parking lot earlier this month when the town discovered that the area being used for public parking was privately owned. There is no word yet on when the closing on the property will occur.
“The minimal barriers will be removed this week,” Armstrong said via email on Tuesday. “There will be a ‘Park at Your Own Risk’ notice, but that has always been the case.”
The purchase of the parking lot is significant for public use of the beach because parking along the roadside is prohibited by the town of Surry. Roadside parking obstructs residents who live on the road and poses safety issues for first responders, including fire trucks and ambulances, which must have room to pass each other and other vehicles.
Town attorney Ed Bearor of Rudman Winchell said the town has been using a portion of the privately owned parcel for years as a “prescriptive easement.” That is when private land is used continuously over a long period of time without permission.
There was about an hour of discussion Monday, moderated by Surry resident and retired attorney Tony Beardsley, before the vote.
Mostly, residents had questions about the details of the proposed purchase, a few of which were answered by former Selectman Bill Matlock, whose term on the board ended last month, as well as by the town’s treasurer, Tom Welgoss.
The pair explained that the town would borrow money for the purchase even though it had cash on hand to pay for it.
The town would pay an interest rate of 3.15 percent on the loan. Meanwhile, Surry this year has been earning over 8 percent on its investment fund.
“It makes no sense to pay cash when you can borrow the money so cheaply,” Matlock said.
“We should take advantage of the very low interest rates because I don’t think they’re going to last a very long time,” said Welgoss.
One woman asked how much Surry had in its reserve.
Welgoss said between $400,000 and $500,000.
Someone else asked how use of the lot could affect Surry’s insurance rates.
“I would say zero impact,” said Welgoss. “We already have the risk; the risk isn’t going to change by virtue of us owning the property.”
Armstrong said a resident had emailed the town wondering how the loss of property tax revenue on the parcel would affect the mill rate.
The property taxes were around $2,500 a year, according to town officials.
“Yes, we’ll lose … but look at what we’ll gain,” said Armstrong.
Tom Minogue, chairman of the Surry Conservation Commission, said his board recommends the town purchase the property, which has historic significance.
“I got this directly from my wife [Sharon Minogue, nee McGraw], so I know I can’t be wrong here,” Minogue quipped. “All of these crossings were used by the Abenaki Indian tribes. The Carrying Place Beach is the shortest crossing between Morgan Bay and Patten Bay.”
Town Clerk Angela Smith said there were 212 registered voters at the meeting but thinks there were maybe 10 more people in attendance who were not residents of Surry.