Things were so heated at Tuesday’s Board of Public Safety meeting that the police chief was ready to escort a lawyer, representing residents seeking to end outdoor entertainment at Chelo’s on the waterfront, out of the room.
Emotions ran high during the almost three-hour meeting when it was proposed the board alter the license allowing a DJ only, a move Glenn Chelo argued would be a death sentence for the family-run restaurant.
In the end, in an action rarely seen at municipal meetings, residents caucused to provide a compromise that will enable Chelo’s to offer live music on a far reduced schedule.
Chelo’s came prepared to address complaints that have continued in spite of nearly $40,000 spent to contain and control noise. At the outset, attorney K. Joseph Shekarchi said Chelo’s would not contract two particular bands: World Première and Those Guys. Those bands drew large audiences that had patrons parking in nearby neighborhoods and, residents said, created littering and urinating in their yards. The board also heard from a 10-year-old girl who said she saw a couple fornicating in a car during a concert.
While Chelo’s has been licensed for indoor and outdoor live entertainment for the past 17 years, noise complaints have steadily increased in the past two years, not only from neighbors in Cowesett but from across the water in Arnold’s Neck, Cedar Tree Point and, more than a mile away, Buttonwoods. Complaints haven’t gone unheeded. Armed with noise meters, police took decibel readings to determine whether ordinances had been violated and the restaurant built a shed for bands and installed its own sound system that it, not the bands, control.
Further, the board reviewed Chelo’s performance, only granting the restaurant an extended schedule after assessing progress to contain noise and deal with traffic.
Despite those measures and Shekarchi’s statement that Chelo’s Warwick restaurants employ 200 and paid $2.7 million in taxes since 2004, the residents represented by attorneys Brian Goldblatt and Jeff Gladstone wanted guarantees they could enjoy the peace of their homes and neighborhoods.
“There have been an unbelievable amount of complaints,” Shekarchi said of last summer, “and no violations were found.” He said Chelo’s would provide free valet parking and police details.
It wasn’t enough. And when board chairwoman Leslie Walaska Baxter said the events of prior summers had no bearing going forward – that the board had heard those complaints and last summer “seemed pretty good” – the audience of about 40 gave a collective “no.”
It also set the stage for a heated exchange between Gladstone and the board. He charged that the award of a license was a “done deal”; that Chelo’s had a cozy relationship with the city and hadn’t been required to follow zoning and building codes; and that the board was turning a blind eye to its responsibility to protect the health, safety and welfare of citizens.
“That’s not true,” Baxter fired back, asking Gladstone where he had heard that issuance of a license was a done deal. Further, she said the board would not consider the testimony of Dr. Tariq Malik, a medical doctor, as that of an expert since that is not his level of expertise. Gladstone took that to mean the board would prevent residents from speaking.
Gladstone cited what he saw as a litany of violations from parking to absence of a special use permit and Coastal Resources Management approval. His voice rising, he demanded, “This board has to establish limits.” Then, looking at Glenn Chelo, he said, “This guy is laughing; he’s saying, ‘I’ve got this board in my pocket.’”
Chelo protested, as did Shekarchi.
As Gladstone became more boisterous counsel for the board, Diana Pearson banged her hand on the table, demanding order. Col. Stephen McCartney told Gladstone if his outbursts continued he would be escorted from the room.
Goldblatt reported that the situation was improved early last summer but deteriorated with the booking of World Premiere and Those Guys. Reports of people urinating and the instance of fornication were new to the board, and Baxter questioned if those situations had been reported to police.
One after another, residents told the board of being bothered by the noise. Goldblatt’s 17-year-old daughter, Dena, said she no longer feels safe in her neighborhood. And a poised 10-year-old Sana Iqbal said she had witnessed “inappropriate behavior.” McCartney spoke privately with the girl to get details of the incident and follow up.
Councilman Steve Merolla attributed the heightened complaints to the type of bands and the audience they attract. He also pointed to the efforts taken by Chelo’s to deal with the situation.
But some residents, citing persistent problems, didn’t see it that way. Some accused Chelo of being concerned only with the bottom line and greedy. Glenn Chelo and his brother, Craig, were outraged. They stood at the allocations.
“It’s not just about the bottom line; we’re not a greedy family,” Glenn Chelo retorted.
Nonetheless, board member Dr. Joseph Spinale had reservations.
“The establishment has to fit into the fabric of the neighborhood…I don’t think they have fit into the fabric,” he said, explaining he would vote against an outdoor entertainment license. Baxter and the third board member, Thomas McGovern, conferred even as residents continued to register their protests.
Baxter asked if a permit for a DJ would be acceptable. The Chelo brothers collectively shook their heads.
“If it’s a DJ, we’re done,” said Glenn.
Shekarchi suggested a vote be postponed so that Chelo’s could examine options and come up with a proposal. Baxter wouldn’t allow it. She said residents had come to enough meetings and the matter needed to be resolved.
Resident William Russo suggested that there might be a “reasonable accommodate and compromise.”
Baxter looked to the audience. Gladstone and Goldblatt conferred briefly and then asked for a recess. Residents rose and gathered in the entryway to police headquarters. Merolla outlined the issues.
Fifteen minutes later the group returned. A plan was offered whereby Chelo’s would be permitted to have live outdoor music from 6 to 9 p.m. Friday and Saturday and from noon to 4 p.m. on Sunday. They also asked for the volume to be reduced below the limits set by city ordinance.
Baxter turned to the Chelo brothers and Shekarchi. Shekarchi asked for 6 to 10 p.m. on Friday and Saturday as bands and personnel must be paid for a minimum of four hours. Baxter said the residents were already giving more than the board would have done in approving a DJ.
Baxter arranged for Chelo’s to appear before the board on June 26 to review the outcome.
“Then let’s see if we can push it to 10 and 11 [p.m.],” she said.
The board unanimously approved the license.
The board also approved a one-day license so that Ocean State Theatre Co. can hold a kickoff celebration this Saturday at the Jefferson Boulevard building it aims to convert into a theater and arts education space. And the board approved liquor and food licenses for a family Italian-style restaurant, Venezia, that is to open in the former Bugaboo Creek on Jefferson Boulevard this spring.