Smoking ban in Storrs Center approved

Members of the Mansfield Town Council unanimously vote to ban tobacco in Storrs Center at the council's meeting on Monday, Jan. 25, 2016. (Mei Buzell/The Daily Campus)

Storrs Center residents and visitors will have to put away their cigarettes and pack up their pipes thanks to a new ordinance banning smoking in the town square.

The Mansfield Town Council unanimously approved an ordinance at its meeting Monday night to ban the use of tobacco products in the area around Storrs Center as part of a larger piece of legislation to define use of the public property in the town square.

The ordinance specifically defines the town square – where the tobacco use ban will be effective – as town green and “adjacent sidewalks bordering Dog Lane, Storrs Road, Royce Circle and Bolton Road Extension.”

Republicans attempted to remove the language banning the use of tobacco products through an amendment, but failed on 5-3 vote. Democratic council member Bill Ryan joined Republican council members Mark Sargent and Virginia Raymond in favor of removing the ban on tobacco use.

“I don’t think this language is appropriate for this piece of legislation itself,” Sargent said. “It’s very specific, one specific line. We have whole ordinance for alcohol, and yet we just kind of wrap in tobacco products; it’s just randomly thrown in here.”

Sargent called on the council to consider an ordinance specific to tobacco regulation. Council member Peter Kochenburger said similar language banning tobacco use in various public spaces had been removed from a number of other ordinances, and inserting the language in the town square ordinance would allow for consistent governance across public property.

Before the beginning of the meeting, council members heard from three members of the community during a public hearing on the ordinance. While none of the speakers were expressly opposed to it, former Republican council member Betty Wassmundt said in her comment she was concerned about the language of the legislation that states council members have the ability to govern the town square through additional ordinances.

Wassmundt said she believed this could be part of a “hidden agenda.” Town Manager Matt Hart addressed her concerns later in the meeting, saying there was no hidden agenda. Rather, he said the language exists to set the precedent for future ordinances governing the use of the town square more specifically.

Rules enacted by the council prohibit the town council from voting on an ordinance the same day as the ordinance’s public hearing. Council member Toni Moran made a motion to suspend the rules and allow consideration of the ordinance.

The vote was 7-1 in favor of suspending the rules, with council member Mark Sargent in opposition. Republican council member Steve Kegler was absent.

The ban will take effect within 21 days of the ordinance’s publication in a newspaper circulated locally. The town is obligated to publish it within 10 days of the ordinance’s passage.

Ravine Road remains contentious issue

Council members heard more than two hours of public comments on the Ravine Road closure, an issue that has been persistent for nearly a year.

More than two-dozen residents presented arguments on whether to permanently close the unpaved section of the road or pay between $10,000 and $110,000 for various improvements.

The town council opted not to vote on the issue Monday night.

The unpaved section of the road, which had been used by some as a shortcut from State Route 32 to UConn’s campus, was closed in March 2015. While intended to be temporary, the closure has lasted for nearly a year.

This has affected the unpaved section’s only resident, the 500-acre Spring Brook Farm, which has had to redirect the shipment of its products as a result of the closure. The farm is the second largest in Mansfield, according to testimony during public comment from various members of the Green family, who own the farm.

The town has various options on the table to resolve the situation, but is primarily looking at two major proposals. The first proposal would give the dirt section of the road to the Green family and pave a $10,000 turnaround to redirect traffic away from the road. In the second proposal, the town would keep the property and spend approximately $110,000 to pave it into a two-lane road.

Members of the community filled the council chamber to express support for both sides of the Ravine Road debate. Many residents were concerned that the road is not suitable for pavement or repair, but others argued modernizing the road could be for the public good.


Kyle Constable is a senior staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at kyle.constable@uconn.edu.