The Narragansett Town Council voted unanimously Monday night to take down stretches of no parking signs within an area of the Point Judith section of town that’s popular with surfers, pursue ways to create safer parking in that area, and begin scrutinizing nearby rights of way, with the possibility of widening them and adding vehicle spaces. 

The streets affected by the changes are Pilgrim, Louise, and Conant Avenues. No parking signs will come down on one side of each street after a new ordinance is written and officially approved by the town council, said Jesse Pugh, the council president.

The town will also explore options for installing crushed stone in the area to provide more stable parking, and begin examining the rights of way at the end of Conant and Pilgrim.

Pugh said the vote demonstrates the town is taking seriously its obligation to protect the public’s access to the shore, as guaranteed by the Rhode Island Constitution.

“We're going to do whatever we can to make sure that there's a decent amount of parking around rights of way, so it's truly accessible, and not just symbolic,” he said.

The town council will now look into forming a coastal access improvement committee as early as its next meeting on Jan. 19. The permanent committee would research and review all public access points in town and send recommendations to the town council, Pugh said.

Efforts to improve access in South County gained momentum in the last year after restrictions put in place because of the pandemic further limited people from getting to the shore. 

During the more than four hour virtual town council meeting Monday, some Narragansett residents voiced opposition to the changes in the public comment period before the vote, saying council members lacked the information and expertise needed to move ahead, and that some of the discussion around beach access amounted to hostility toward vacation homeowners. 

John Kennedy, who lives in the neighborhood being affected, encouraged the council to table the vote and seek input from more people.

“It needs to be done in an intelligent manner,” Kennedy said. “I think the council needs more information. There should be more due diligence, more involvement, more participation.”

Town council member Patrick Murray said the steps being taken in Narragansett set a tone for other towns where the public is losing access to the shoreline.

“If you're a public official, you need to pick a side,” Murray said. “Stand up for these access points. Don't let them be encroached upon. Provide safe access.”

Conrad Ferla, a local surfer and advocate for shoreline access, called the outcome a win that will help more people get to the water.

“If you’re younger, you can walk from farther away,” Ferla said. “But if you’re older, or handicapped, parking a mile away to get to the shore is a problem. So it was pretty awesome to see the community come together to resolve a problem to make sure that we all have access in Rhode Island.”

He added, “What is the Ocean State without ocean access?” 

Alex Nunes can be reached at anunes@thepublicsradio.org.