The updated definition of a “fraternal organization” in the Mansfield Town Zoning Ordinances bars any organization from holding events or meetings off campus.
Linda Painter, the Director of Planning and Development for the Town of Mansfield said the previous definition was outdated as it referenced a UConn office that no longer existed and did not extend to Greek organizations that have lost their recognition from the university but still operate.
“It left a gap in our enforcement,” Painter said.
The zoning regulations were updated in June, while students were on summer break.
“I’m very frustrated this legislation was passed over the summer,” Interfraternity Council President Ryan Cunniff said. “It’s my belief that it was done deliberately because the students who would oppose that were on summer recess.”
Article IV of the Zoning Regulations of the Town of Mansfield now defines fraternal organizations as: “Any group of persons organized for a common purpose, interest or pleasure. This term includes, but is not limited to social, service, and professional/academic organizations.”
“It is encompassing way more than the small population of student (organizations) that actually are the problem,” Cunniff said. “It’s very unfair for the town to be (making) this kind of blanket statement that disbands the congregation of all student organizations.”
Painter said the change to broaden the definition had to be made in order to create the legal framework necessary to bring the laws in line with their intended purpose.
“Zoning regulations are not for a majority of people who do the right thing, they’re written for the minority who do the wrong thing,” Painter said.
Painter said this definition prohibits all organizational gatherings, not just student organizations. Painter said even a bridge club meeting in a residence would technically be in violation of the law.
“We broadened (the definition) to create a level playing field for all organizations as opposed to only applying it to a very narrow group,” Painter said.
Painter said the main concerns members of the Mansfield community have include noise complaints and increased traffic during events.
“They happen on a frequent basis and have an impact on residents’ quality of life,” Painter said.
Cunniff said he feels the problem stems from the different lifestyles of Mansfield community members and college students.
“We’re just on different biological clocks. We’re just at points in our life where our interests are different,” Cunniff said.
Cunniff said he feels that the town’s response to the problem has created problems for many students as well, resulting in some students being ticketed heavily, evicted or being placed on probation.
“I don’t feel it’s fair to say we’re inhibiting on their quality of life when everything they’ve done is a direct attack on ours as well,” Cunniff said.
Cunniff said he believes the town should be more considerate of the fact that students who live there contribute to the community.
“I think the townspeople fail to realize how active of a role we play in their town and it’s very frustrating (for them) to not take any of our opinions into consideration when moving forward with this legislation,” Cunniff said.
UConn’s Student Activity Off-Campus Activity Advising material has been updated in light of the change. The updated material informs students that if their organization holds an event at an off-campus residence in the town of Mansfield, they are in violation of their zoning laws.
“Since our department does not make or enforce town zoning regulations, my goal is to make sure that our student organizations are aware of the zoning regulations as they consider organization activities such as meetings and events,” Director of Student Activities, Christine Wilson, said.
Off-Campus Student Services has also posted the information on its website to make students aware of the ordinance.
“The University’s role with the recent amendment to the zoning laws has been to ensure that students are educated on the changes,” Director of Off-Campus Student Services, John Armstrong, said.
Painter said that the law will likely not be applied as broadly as the wording allows and will be enforced on a complaint basis to stop truly disruptive events.
“Maybe a big party that gets reported to the police will receive a notice of violation for fraternal activity off-campus, but I don’t foresee a neighbor complaining about the honors club meeting at a property,” Mansfield’s Assistant Planner and Zoning Enforcement Officer, Janell Mullen, said to the Daily Campus.
Painter said the town’s goal is not to punish students.
“Our goal is compliance,” Painter said, “Our goal is not to ticket people.”
Cunniff said the IFC is open to having a productive conversation with the town.
“It’s not a problem that can be solved without working together,” Cunniff said. “That’s something I’d really like to see happen, I’ve just yet to see the town’s willingness to participate in that.”