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AYER — On a split vote, the Ayer Board of Selectmen denied the use of the Great Hall on the second floor of Ayer Town Hall for a May 9 Business After Hours Chamber of Commerce gathering which would have served alcohol.

Economic Development Director David Maher said that North Middlesex Savings Bank, located immediately next to Town Hall, was hosting the event. The bank is the premiere chamber sponsor.

Bank President William Marshal and the bank are a “very integral part of the community and the business community,” said Maher.

But selectman Pauline Conley was concerned with the serving of alcohol in the building. It was done once before for a gala celebration for the renovation of the building, but that was an event hosted by the town itself, Conley noted.

NMSB Vice President for Marketing Patricia Thorpe pledged the bank would hire a “TIPS certified” server through the Jack-o-Lantern Liquor Store on Littleton Road.

Conley said she remained concerned about liability with event goers who’ve drunk liquor being injured on the premises.

Thorpe said the event would be open to chamber members and others interested in joining. The event was to take place from 5 to 8 p.m.

“I saw this and was very much opposed to it. It seems to be just somehow undesirable,” said selectman Frank Maxant. “I really feel as though I just don’t like the sense of it. It just doesn’t feel right.”

Conley asked to see the insurance binder being purchased by the bank for the event. “I want to see and read the document. We could very well be exposing ourselves to liability.”

Capital Planning Committee Chairman Mary Spinner said “this opens the Great Hall up to other venues.” Spinner said it was inappropriate to use Town Hall for “parties serving booze, quite frankly.” Spinner asked what other towns permit it.

Chairman Gary Luca said he’s been to functions serving alcohol in other towns. “I’ve been to weddings at town halls,” added selectman Carolyn McCreary.

Thorpe said the bank made the request so it could host the event, which she billed as a chance to “promote business growth in this community.”

Luca picked up on the thread, noting the selectmen are frequently asked, “What are we going to do for downtown Ayer?’ This is a good step.”

“I’m not opposed to business in Ayer,” said Conley. “I am opposed to serving alcohol in this building.”

Town Administrator Robert Pontbriand said there has been pushback to the request heard at the selectmen’s office. “It’s not directed at North Middlesex Savings Bank directly. It’s just the concept and the precedent. I heard a lot of negative connotation to that.”

Pontbriand said for approval, “I’d be looking to will of the board on this one. It is unique in this sense, the alcohol piece.”

“I’d have to defer against allowing alcohol,” said Fay. “I can understand the economic benefit, but we can do that without the use of alcohol.”

“I don’t expect it to be ‘Animal House,'” said Luca.

“This is the people’s house,” said Fay.

The request failed on a 2-3 vote, with Luca and McCreary voting unsuccessfully to approve the event.

Follow Mary Arata at twitter.com/maryearata.