The relationship between the Fairfield beach residents and the Fairfield University students that live on the beach has always been tumultuous at best.
The Mirror’s website is filled with articles like “Beach Resident Relations Not ‘On Point’”, “Tensions with Beach Residents Alter Uber Policy” and “Town-gown relations: No day at the beach” that highlight the nearly decades of tension between the two groups.
In an interview with The Mirror, Carolyn Kamlet, the President of the Fairfield Beach Residents Association, states relations with University students at the beach have gotten better than it has been in the past, “But it’s like saying your fever used to be 105 and now you’re 103.”
The FBRA is an advocacy organization for homeowners from “from the Old Post Road south to Fairfield Beach Road west to the end of the road, and Reef Road east to Beach Road,” as stated on their website.
Kamlet adds that their organization was started in the 1950s to try and make the beach more suitable for full-time residents. Eventually, it transitioned into more of an advocacy, community group trying to band together against beach erosion, beach beautification and just working to maintain the area as much as they can.
She adds that the beach area has changed a lot over the years and even more so recently. What were once tiny beach bungalows have grown into larger family homes and they currently have many more full-time residents than they ever did.
“I think it’s difficult for students your age or for those that are coming up behind you to realize that we’re no longer beach bungalows,” Kamlet states. “We literally are a community, much of which are similar to where the students have been living with their parents or guardians.”
She continues that she understands where Fairfield students are coming from, “They looked forward to doing that [living at the beach] since they were Freshmen and they’re sowing their wild oats and the residents are saying, ‘Wait a minute, this isn’t a booze cruise in Fort Lauderdale on Spring Break!’”
Around four years ago the Beach Advisory Group was formed as a group, “…that comes together every six weeks or so and the University does, in fact, reach out to us and includes the police, the fire department, the residents, the health department” with University administrators all meeting to discuss the beach community.
This group comes after years of tense relations between the full-time residents and students leading to a court injunction to block any more than 250 students from gathering on Lantern Point and playing music that’s volume exceeded state and local codes.
Kamlet states the injunction occurred because there were “thousands of attendees” and that it was “disruptive to the community.”
She adds it was the “trash, the lewdness, the drunkenness, underage drinking” that caused the injunction.
And it’s important to note that the injunction still holds true today.
“I do think that Fairfield students get caught oftentimes in the middle of disruptive behavior when it may not have been them initiating the behavior,” she adds, continuing, “But there are other people who come to the beach, and I know they’re underclass persons who come to the beach. It’s not just your seniors that come to the beach, so it can get out of hand.”
Kamlet highlights one event in particular where there were strippers at the annual Mock Wedding event. “Not that that happened now in 2021, but those kinds of events are not something that families want their families to witness, as well as what it does to the community.
It was reported by The Mirror in 2006 that the bus company Laidlaw “refused to bring students back from the reception of the Mock Wedding at the Stamford Marriott… [as] a result of students’ inappropriate behavior on the bus on the way to the reception.”
Further, the 2006 article continues that the events of that day were “highlighted by the presence of both male and female strippers in some instances.”
The injunction on Lantern Point was made permanent that same year.
In 2006, the First Selectman Kenneth Flatto told The Mirror he supported the injunction as, “There wouldn’t be a way to enforce crowd behavior without these sanctions … The beach is public property and unfortunately, bonfires and poor behavior have resulted in proposals for fencing and other things.”
Even with the injunction, the Mock Wedding tradition caused further issues in 2008 when damages to the buses caused the Student Beach Resident Association President Erin Hickey ‘08 to be charged solely for the damages as she was “completely liable” as reported by The Mirror.
“Not every student is disruptive, I mean that has to be out there, not every student is disruptive” Kamlet adds, stating that “Many of them come with great respect for our community.”
Yet, she continues by adding she doesn’t go one weekend without an email with, “… a complaint from a resident about students urinating on their property or on the reef, on the jetty… trespassing into their private property.”
She mentions that Fairfield University has a website that residents can use to send in videos or complaints regarding students either anonymously or not. Students also have the opportunity to report actions, “Students who will say to the University, ‘there’s really a bad house next to me and I don’t want to be affiliated with this.’”
“One of the things we’ve tried to say to students is, you know if people show up at your house and they’re students or underclassmen whoever they are and you don’t want them there, you do have the right to call the cops yourself.” Kamlet states, adding “When bad things happen innocent people can get caught up in it.”
Kamlet continues that Fairfield does not tell them how many students are caught for behavior that breaks the student code of conduct, “And it’s the students’ rights to not have it made public, so I get that too.”
Some residents, according to Kamlet, fear that there are no repercussions for bad actions, “There are some repercussions, but part of it is identifying the culprit,” she continues, “Students need to be aware that now there are Ring Cameras, that’s how I get pictures.”
She adds that it’s not all students who are doing wrong at the beach, “…but it’s disruptive to enough residents that it continues to be an issue.”
Kamlet speaks as well to the more day-to-day relationship between the residents and the students, and how overcrowding seems to be an issue.
Kamlet states that she doesn’t have an exact estimate of how many students currently live on the beach as, “When I first began with Fairfield Beach Residents Association eight years ago Fairfield University would give us the numbers that they were releasing. In the last two years, we’ve been told that while we may want to know, we don’t need to know.” She adds.
Last year, according to Kamlet, the administration at Fairfield changed the website regarding how the beach was discussed on the off-campus section of the housing site.
The Mirror reported on this in April of 2021, after students voiced concerns regarding how students are released from their housing contract to live on the beach.
Since Fairfield guarantees housing for all four years, students must be released from the housing agreement they sign upon enrollment.
Student tour guides are instructed to mention beach housing on tours and it’s even stated in a Fairfield University YouTube video, “Upperclassmen also have the unique opportunity to live off-campus by Fairfield Beach.”
At the time of the article, Associate Dean and Director of the Office of Residence Life Meredith Smith reiterated that the University does not guarantee all students will be released from their housing contract. “Our office and the Dean of Students communicated that the Off-Campus Boarder process is a lottery. We encourage students to not sign leases until they know they have been released from their four-year residential contract.”
“I’m not saying that’s wrong” Kamlet states, adding “As a resident, I don’t mind Fairfield University selling the fact that we have a beach population… but the second line needs to be ‘it is a ‘residential’ beach community.”
She continues that students should know they need to move their trash cans out and not block a parking spot.
Kamlet also adds that speed on the road continues to be an issue as Fairfield Beach Road has no sidewalks and just one stop sign.
“I can walk down my street… and tell you what time of day it is, when classes start and when classes end, because they’re zooming up and down…. It’s like gun it all the way down to Fairfield Beach Road or gun it up.”
She states the number of students living on the beach is important as, “Every 100 persons who live at the beach has a huge impact on traffic and speed and trash.”
Kamlet also mentions that landlords play a role in the issue.
“We also have a lot of landlords who are making very large amounts of money by renting to students.” Kamlet states and later continues, “Unfortunately, we have some landlords who take advantage of students and their families by charging exorbitant amounts of money to live at the beach.”
She adds that, by law, there can be no more than five in a house, and that number is reduced to four in the beach district. “We now have a certificate of rental occupancy which makes it a misdemeanor if you violate that.”
Kamlet continues, “It’s sort of like some of our landlords… who will say to the students, it’s really okay that you have seven living there, and nobody really cares. Yeah people really do care! It is against the ordinance. It is against the law! You really can’t, but they’ll say don’t worry about it.”
When asked if the ever-increasing class size is a concern to her, as overcrowding is already an issue at the beach, Kamlet states, “Well absolutely…I don’t believe that Fairfield University could in fact house all of you on campus if all of you stayed for four years. There’s just no physical way to do that.”
She continues that she respects the university for their privacy and what they want to do as an institution, “…that’s up to them and their board and your President. But we had always hoped that we would be eventually reducing that number down, and we don’t know that it’s going down.”