To boost fundraising, East Lyme to allow alcohol at some Smith-Harris House functions

East Lyme — Citing a need for more fundraising opportunities, particularly during these challenging economic times, the Board of Selectmen moved this week to allow alcohol to be served a few times a year at functions on the property of the historical Smith-Harris House.

Alcohol is prohibited on town-owned properties, unless the selectmen make an exception.

The Smith-Harris House Commission — which, along with the Friends of Smith-Harris House, its fundraising arm, runs the 1845 Greek-Revival house — made the request out of a need for fundraising, said Maggi Prokop, a commission member. The house offers a lot of programs, many for schoolchildren, to promote history in East Lyme.

The barn on the Smith-Harris House property on Society Road is rented out at times from April to November for weddings, birthday parties and other functions, typically on weekends, she said.

But there have been plenty of times that people have backed out of holding events at the barn, because of the no-alcohol policy on the town-owned property. Those events would have brought in a lot of money, she said.

First Selectman Mark Nickerson, who brought the request to the selectmen at their April 4 meeting, said he thought it would be an opportunity to fully use the space and bring in income during tough economic times.

Selectwoman Rose Ann Hardy, who was away for Wednesday's meeting when the selectmen voted in favor of the request, said during the last meeting that this is likely the fourth time the selectmen have discussed the issue, and she is "vehemently opposed to the serving of liquor on town property." While she said she supports the Smith-Harris House, she felt the policy would set a bad precedent and there are businesses in town that pay heavily for a liquor license and have the means for security.

"I don't think that this is an appropriate use of town property," she said.

The other selectmen said they would support the initiative, as long as it is done properly and in a way that shields the town from liability.

"I understand Rose Ann's concerns but we're getting to a point where we're asking our historic properties such as the Smith-Harris House to do more with much less," Deputy First Selectman Kevin Seery said.

Seery said he trusts the commission would properly oversee the events.

At Wednesday's Board of Selectmen meeting, Seery presented his research on the topic and a list of recommended conditions. He said many other towns allow alcohol to be served on town property for special events and occasions involving nonprofits, similar to East Lyme's Smith-Harris House.

The board voted Wednesday in favor of allowing special permits for alcohol to be served at the Smith-Harris House property for up to three events per calendar year. The selectmen said they annually will review the policy, which begins May 1 and is effective for a year.

The selectmen stipulated that the events can have no more than 100 attendees and can take place only at a time when there are no students on the nearby campuses of East Lyme Middle School or Lillie B. Haynes Elementary School. 

The selectmen are requiring a certificate of liability insurance of at least $1 million for events that specifies liquor liability, and also a signed indemnity and hold-harmless agreement. The selectmen also are requiring a bartender who has taken a responsible serving course through the Department of Consumer Protection.

Nickerson said that before issuing a permit for an event, whether it's one in which someone is renting the facility or a fundraiser to raise money for the house or the curator, he would certify that the criteria are met.

k.drelich@theday.com

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