Representatives from the Town of Mansfield, the UConn Interfraternity Council (IFC) and the UConn Undergraduate Student Government (USG) had a dialogue at the Town/University Relations Committee’s meeting Tuesday afternoon about recently updated Mansfield zoning ordinances.
Mansfield director of planning and development Linda Painter said the change to the Mansfield zoning laws included an update to the definition of the term “fraternal organization” to mean any UConn organization, including social fraternities, academic fraternities, sports teams and service organizations.
Painter said that if one of these organizations were to hold an event off-campus, it would be considered a violation of this new ordinance.
Ryan Cunniff, IFC president, said IFC members have expressed their concerns to him about the purpose of the ordinance, as well as what the legislation would mean for any students living off-campus with members of their own organization.
Cunniff said this legislation was passed in June while students were on summer break and that he feels this was not a coincidence.
“This legislation was not even brought to our attention until we received an email from off-campus student activity advising,” Cunniff said.
Cunniff said he has concerns that the new ordinance might violate the IFC’s constitutional right to assemble and that it seems to him that the town acted without considering the perspective of UConn students and the limitations this legislation could put on their ability to meet with their organizations.
Cunniff also said he believed this ordinance was not a solution to the tensions between UConn students and their neighbors in Mansfield.
“If anything, this legislation creates more problems,” Cunniff said.
Painter said hosting off-campus fraternity and sorority events has been illegal in residential zones for many years before the most recent change in legislation.
“The prohibition of those types of activities really didn’t change,” Painter said.
Janell Mullen, assistant town planner and zoning enforcement officer for Mansfield, said that violations of the ordinance are only brought to her attention if a neighboring resident makes a complaint.
“I am not in the town car daily looking for people in a house reading books, or playing chess or having frisbee toss in their backyard,” Mullen said.
Colin Mortimer, USG external affairs vice chair, then posed a few hypothetical scenarios that could problematize the new legislation.
“We’re concerned about the slippery slope that this [legislation] is, that now the town has the authority to...find groups in violation when they’re meeting for innocent stuff such as playing chess [off-campus] as part of chess club,” Mortimer said.
Haley Hinton, USG external affairs chair, said the dialogue around this new ordinance was in part due to confusion about the actual changes entailed by the new legislation.
“We do have a lot of students who are very concerned about the ordinances...people are very confused, they’re kind of scared, and they don’t know what their rights are,” Hinton said. “They think that they’re living illegally currently because of an organization they’re in.”
Hinton welcomed a statement made earlier in the meeting by Mullen that town officials would be happy to attend a USG meeting to discuss the new ordinance.
Hinton said she feels that a dialogue between the committee and the student organizations impacted by this new legislation is necessary.
“We are definitely willing to have some conversations [with committee members] because [the new ordinance] is a big thing we’re dealing with with students,” Hinton said.
Annie Stachura is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.