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Litchfield by the Sea: New system curbs unauthorized access to beach

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

The parking lot and beach by the Litchfield by the Sea clubhouse were empty this week. Property owners know that won’t last, but they think that some of the seasonal crowds will be thinner this year once they complete a change to the system that manages access to the gated community.

The beach and clubhouse are amenities for about 2,700 homes in the Litchfield area. So is the swimming pool at the River Club. Those homes get access with a pass system that uses bar codes.

“It’s 30 or 40 years out of date,” said Tom Leis, the River Club POA president who led a task force that spent the last year working on a new system. For instance, it can’t determine if property owners have multiple bar codes, ones that they give to friends who wouldn’t otherwise have access to the amenities.

The new system, which will go into operation April 1, requires property owners to register their vehicles. They can get up to eight bar-coded passes. “Anybody living in your house can have a bar code,” Leis said.

The system also controls access to the gated communities that are part of the greater Litchfield by the Sea Community Association, such as Willbrook and River Club. Rather than phone the gate to tell security staff about visitors, residents will log them in online. Property owners started registering for the new system last week. The process will continue through February.

“It seems simple enough,” said Gene Hughes, a winter resident at Litchfield by the Sea who said he isn’t “tech savvy.”

Diane Stern heard that from many people. A River Club resident, she gave demonstrations on how the computer system works. It was designed by TEM Systems, a Florida-based company that started out as a maker of time clocks in Ohio. The task force wanted a simple interface, Stern said.

Most people who have registered seem pleased, Leis said.

“There was a lot of unauthorized access,” Stern said. “I’m a beach person. It was frustrating.”

Leis said a security guard questioned one man who was found setting up a grill in Litchfield by the Sea, a violation of the rules. The man said he didn’t know the rules because he wasn’t a resident in any of the communities. He had bought a used car that still had its Litchfield by the Sea sticker.

One Willbrook resident told Leis he was unhappy that his children could get passes, but not his mother. He gave the system thumbs down, literally.

“We’ll always make exceptions,” Leis said, but those are done by the association board within each community, and he said they haven’t granted too many. One allowed a resident to give passes to the caregivers for a family member with Alzheimer’s disease. Without the exception, the resident would have had to log the caregivers in each month.

“It’s to help all of us, not penalize anyone,” Leis said. However, there is a penalty, $100 and potential loss of access to amenities, for people who give false information on their registration.

Bob Postiglione of Atlanta, president of the association at Shipyard Village within Litchfield by the Sea, also worked on the task force. “There are lots of people with different access needs,” he said. “And then there’s the pizza guy.”

Some common service providers may end up with generic passes as the system evolves, Leis said.

TEM Systems created a special software module for Litchfield by the Sea to allow real estate companies to issue passes to people who rent vacation homes. Renters will be able to swipe a bar code to enter rather than stopping at the security gate for a guard to review their paper pass.

Leis expects there will be some bugs to be worked out before the peak season, but he expects the changeover will create a system that is more secure and less of a burden for Litchfield by the Sea members.

If it turns out there are still people who give out passes in violation of the rules, the system can also accommodate a license plate reader that will match the vehicle to the property owner. “Security is important to all of us,” Leis said, “and not allowing use of our property by people who aren’t Litchfield by the Sea members.”

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