Legal Notice from the Board of Assessment Appeals
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The First Selectman's Guide to a Successful Summer Party

Posted on
July 4, 2023
by
First Selectman's Office
It’s summer, and time to invite a couple hundred of your closest friends over to have a barbeque and a beer and listen to live music. Which means it’s also time to squabble with your neighbor over the impact of your party. I don’t think anyone is trying to harsh anyone else’s mellow, but that’s what happens, and the disputes sometimes land on my desk. So I have asked our attorney for some guidance on what is or is not permissible.
 
Some of the answer is really straightforward. If you hold an event that is advertised—by lawn signs, social media, skywriting, whatever—as open to the public, meaning anyone can show up, and if food is available, then you must have the necessary permits from the Eastern Highlands Health District regardless of if you are charging for admission. It is not that hard to get the permits, and the sanitarians at EHHD want to help you do it—and in the process to reduce the likelihood that warm mayonnaise or spoiled shrimp will make your closest friends regret coming to your party. 
 
Some of the answer is not so straightforward, especially when it comes to land use (rather than public health) laws. The most important land use law distinction is between personal and commercial use. Here are a few guidelines about what gives your neighbors a leg to stand on if they want to complain about your party:
 
·         Advertising, including on social media, that an event is open to the public, even if it is free of charge
·         Selling stuff, or having vendors sell stuff
·         Asking for money—tickets, contributions, raffles, etc.
·          Having a zillion people in attendance, especially if they are parking on public roads (or your neighbors’ lawns).
·         Having frequent events. Once or twice is a party. Three times, maybe that’s a venue.
 
Town have something called prosecutorial discretion, meaning we can choose which activities to investigate and take action against. One of the criteria for choosing is the number and legitimacy of the complaints we receive. That means different things, depending on whether you are the host or the neighbor. 
 
For hosts, it means taking your neighbors into consideration in all respects, from the beginning of your planning. Among other things, you can:
 
·         inform them of what you are up to.
·         ask them if they have any concerns.
·         invite them.
·         ask them to tell you how it went from their viewpoint so you can make changes the next time. 
·         remind your guests that you have neighbors.
·         keep in mind that you have to live near your neighbors as long as you are in your home, that feuds are poisonous to both parties, and thus best avoided at all costs.
 
In my experience, people who feel as if their interests have been taken into consideration are less likely to complain, and thus to rain on your parade.
 
For neighbors, the fuzziness of the law means remembering and respecting that people have a right to gather their friends and to cut loose if they want to, and that lodging a complaint with the town is a serious step that should be taken as a last resort. Among other things, you can:
 
·         talk to your neighbor, and get the details of what they are planning.
·         tell them what your concerns are, and offer constructive suggestions about how they can be addressed. 
·         plan ahead to not be home if you think the party will make you unhappy.
·         remind yourself that it is only a single event, and that like a blizzard or road closure, it will be over soon.
·         keep in mind that you have to live near your neighbors as long as you are in your home, that feuds are poisonous to both parties, and thus best avoided at all costs.
 
In my experience, the more of these you have done before you complain to us, and the less responsive your neighbor has been, the more likely we are to investigate. 
 
I hope this is helpful, and I hope you have a great party.