The success of one of the best locations in the city for outdoor entertainment with views of Greenwich Bay, Warwick Neck and the towers of the Mount Hope Bridge on the distant horizon has become the rallying point of several neighborhoods looking for greater controls on crowds and noise.
Just as fervently, the restaurants and bars with outdoor entertainment want to protect their ability to draw crowds and say increased regulations would hinder and, conceivably, put them out of business.
“We don’t want to put them out of business,” said Arnold’s Neck resident Barbara Dickerson, “I just want to be able to go to bed at a reasonable hour.”
Dickerson is a member of a core group, including residents from Cedar Tree Point in Nausauket and Cowesett, that had distributed hundreds of flyers and sent out countless emails in an effort to have a massive turnout at Tuesday’s Board of Public Safety meeting. The board was slated to consider the renewal of the entertainment and outdoor seating license for Chelo’s Waterfront Bar and Grill, but the hearing has been postponed until Jan. 24 at Chelo’s request.
Concurrently, the City Council was to have considered Monday an amendment to the city’s noise ordinance introduced by Ward 9 Councilman Steve Merolla. Merolla withheld action on his ordinance at the request of Leslie Walaska Baxter, chair of the Board of Public Safety.
Merolla said the intent of his ordinance, which would give the board the power to reduce allowable decibel levels following an infraction, is to give the board added means to regulate outdoor entertainment. Presently, the mechanisms the board has are hours and days of operation. The decibel levels are 60 until 10 p.m. and 50 from then until midnight.
Word of Merolla’s ordinance traveled quickly.
Melanie Flamand, co-owner of the Carousel Grill in Oakland Beach attended Monday’s council meeting. She feared a reduction in the decibel level would stifle business and could end outdoor entertainment across the city.
K. Joseph Shekarchi, attorney for Chelo’s, observed that regulation would not apply to one specific use but to the whole city. And he added, the ordinance would just as easily apply to the city and neighborhood associations hosting outdoor summer concerts. Shekarchi further questioned the legality of having the enforcing agency establishing decibel levels when establishment is a function of the legislative branch.
Noise is what has brought the neighborhoods together. They fought entertainment permits at Chelo’s last summer. In response Chelo’s erected a sound stage and installed a sound system.
“Without entertainment we’re going out of business,” Greg Chelo said Monday evening outside council chambers. He said the company invested more than $40,000 to control noise and “Here we are, and World War III is about to begin.”
He said Chelo’s has operated for 17 years without incident, not even a fight. Police have monitored decibel levels and the restaurant hasn’t been cited.
Dickerson said she has had to put up with the noise all those years, but in the last couple of years it seems to have become worse.
That’s a matter of opinion. Merolla said he’s experienced an increase in complaints, although they aren’t all related to the volume of music.
“It’s almost like they [Chelo’s] have become a mini Warwick Musical Theater,” he said.
He said when popular bands are booked the turnout is such that cars end up being parked on business properties on Post Road and neighboring residential streets. Chelo’s even has a valet service from the dry cleaner’s lot at the corner of Cowesett Avenue and Post Road to the restaurant. But concertgoers sometimes throw beer cans and urinate on private property, he said.
He said Chelo’s has responsibly hired detail police officers to control traffic and he said the “sound system is going to be helpful.”
Residents have questioned whether police are properly measuring sound levels and there were allegations that the board postponed the hearing this week, knowing that a large turnout was possible.
Chelo said he requested the continuance because, “We didn’t have enough time to plan for the hearing.”
Shekarchi said with no outdoor concerts planned for the winter, there is no hurry to address either Merolla’s amended ordinance or the Chelo’s outdoor entertainment license.