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Hanover limits gatherings to 10 people as Dartmouth return approaches

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 9/1/2020 9:36:47 PM
Modified: 9/1/2020 9:36:42 PM

HANOVER — Gatherings held on or in residential properties in Hanover are now limited to 10 or fewer people, not counting the residents themselves, under an emergency ordinance passed Monday night by the town’s Selectboard.

The five-member board voted unanimously to adopt new rules, which also require hosts to maintain the names and contact information of guests. They say the ordinance will help to prevent the spread of coronavirus and discourage the large parties reported at rental properties over the summer, many said to involve Dartmouth College students.

The move also coincides with the return of about 2,300 undergraduate students to Dartmouth’s campus, with more expected to rent apartments in town ahead of the Sept. 14 start of classes.

The regulations, which will be enforced by Hanover’s health officials, do “a much better job” to deter and manage large gatherings in town, Health Officer Michael Hinsley told the Selectboard during a half-hour discussion held over Zoom teleconferencing.

The new ordinance limits all gatherings at residential properties to “fewer than 10 people,” not including residents. If someone wanted to host a larger party, they’d have to seek approval from the town in the form of an activities permit.

Those found in violation would first receive a verbal warning, followed by a $200 fine and citation for a second offense. Officials haven’t yet decided on the fine for anything further, with some Selectboard members suggesting it should be as high as $2,000.

“A $200 fine is sort of the price of the beer kegs,” Selectboard Chairman Peter Christie said. “A $2,000 fine would be viewed significantly differently.”

Hinsley, who is also the deputy fire chief in Hanover, agreed that a $200 fine “isn’t going to cut it” for repeat offenders. He also argued that the rules shouldn’t be a burden.

One gathering has already sought town approval “and it worked beautifully,” he said, adding that requiring hosts to collect contact information is important so that officials can follow up if an attendee later tests positive for the coronavirus.

“For the contact tracing, it’s vital,” Hinsley said. “It’s just a critical component that we need to be able to successfully do that.”

The housing ordinance applies to residential properties throughout Hanover and was crafted after an earlier proposal targeting rental units faced strong opposition during an August meeting that drew more than a dozen public comments.

“If we were going to have regulations to keep the town safe, they should be universal,” Ted Niedermayer, a Tuck School of Business student who opposed the initial draft, said Tuesday.

He said the new rules are fair but could amount to “overkill” because Dartmouth is requiring all students, on- and off-campus, to sign a waiver agreeing to limit gatherings to fewer than 10 people.

“I hope that people who own properties and are now included in the ordinance, and not just the (students) aren’t too upset,” said Niedermayer, who is living at his family’s home in Hanover. “But I think it does make sense with the undergrads coming back in a week.”

Hanover officials have said one goal of the ordinance is to ensure that Dartmouth students don’t move large parties off campus, given the restrictions in dorms and fraternities.

Andrew Cline, president of the free-market, Concord-based Josiah Bartlett Center for Public Policy, also said the ordinance may be unnecessary given the small number of cases of COVID-19 in the region.

Hanover currently has fewer than five confirmed cases while neighboring Lebanon has none, according to state data.

“It’s perfectly understandable that town officials would be concerned about students creating superspreader events that would overwhelm the health care system,” he said. “But given the low numbers in the region, that seems unlikely at such small gatherings.”

However, Hanover resident Chris Kubik applauded news of the ordinance Tuesday.

He lives just south of Dartmouth’s campus, near houses often rented by students, and hopes the new rules will provide a “strong discouragement” for those intent on partying during the pandemic.

The move to limit gatherings comes nearly a month after town officials mandated the use of face masks in public places.

Although Hinsley had 70 “encounters” with people not wearing masks on the mandate’s first day in effect, the town has yet to issue a citation, Town Manager Julia Griffin said at the Selectboard meeting.

Tim Camerato can be reached at tcamerato@vnews.com or 603-727-3223.




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