Long Beach neighbors discuss COVID-19 safety as beach crowds grow

PAUL BILODEAU/Staff photo. A parking lot on Beachland Avenue near Long Beach fills up quickly as people head to Long Beach in Rockport after Good Harbor Beach closes to non-residents. 7/21/20 [[MER2007211303200879]]

Nearly 30 Long Beach neighbors turned up at community meeting — keeping socially distant — to discuss if any additional measures are needed to protect residents from COVID-19. 

As City Hall is not holding any public meetings for the time being, the meeting was held at the home of Rob Russell on Rockport Road. Russell organized the meeting because he is concerned about the Long Beach Parking Lot on Beachland Avenue. Specifically, the privately owned lot doesn't follow the same state guidelines as the city's publicly owned parking lots at Wingaersheek Beach, Good Harbor Beach and Stage Fort Park.

Russell said he opened the meeting by reading the Massachusetts COVID-19 beach guidelines.

"It doesn't make any distinction between private and public lots," said Russell. "It says 'All beaches' right there at the top. Good Harbor has (parking) restrictions and so does Crane (in Ipswich). This lot doesn't and it has flooded the neighborhood."

Despite Russell's arguments, city officials who attended the meeting said many who showed up were in support of Richard Pratt, owner of Long Beach Parking Lot, and how he's been handling his business during the pandemic. 

"The support that Mr. Pratt had was, I felt, unanimous," said Councilor Jamie O'Hara, who showed up at the meeting. "There was far more support for him to continue operating his business the way he has for years. I assume these folks were from the neighborhood. They had spoke extremely highly of him and how accommodating he was to the neighborhood." 

Pratt previously told the Gloucester Times he and his employees have been following the state and city guidelines to best limit the spread of COVID-19, just as any private business has done since reopening.

"I would say that a majority of the attendees were in support of his parking lot operations," said City Councilor Scott Memhard, "as permitted for 225 cars, so long as he follows the conditions of his permit with new (Massachusetts COVID-19) safety guidelines."

Russell said he's not done fighting for his beliefs. He and his supporters are planning to hold a protest outside City Hall on Thursday.

"I think we've got some people lined up to hold up signs," he said. "We're going to go to City Hall and look for some help. We're not going to stay silent and this is only going to get bigger." 

Michael Cronin may be contacted at 978-675-2708, or mcronin@gloucestertimes.com.

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