Sixty-six. That’s the number of people Glenn Chelo, co-owner of Chelo’s restaurants, said he had to lay off at the beginning of the season due to reduced hours of live music at Chelo’s Waterfront Bar and Grill.
At Tuesday’s Board of Public Safety meeting, Chelo said there was a lot at stake, namely 200 jobs and the status of his business. If the board decided to keep the reduced hours at Chelo’s, Chelo said this summer would be his last season at the waterfront restaurant.
Lucky for Chelo, the board ruled to extend his hours, a decision Chelo said will keep him in business.
Chelo said he didn’t want it to be their last season at the waterfront location, but if the board did not grant them more hours they would pack their bags. Chelo said their new restaurant, Blu, the former 20 Water Street, would become their only waterfront venue.
In March, the board cut the number of the hours live bands could play at Chelo’s, asking that the music cease at 10 instead of 11 p.m.
On Tuesday evening, the community room at the Warwick Police Department was packed with neighbors and employees who testified both for and against Chelo’s. Some said the restaurant had made improvements to the noise and traffic issues that were previously problematic.
The board’s chairwoman, Leslie Walaska Baxter, was keen to remind those present that the hearing was a review of the past two weeks at Chelo’s, not a time to rehash what had happened in prior summers.
Chelo’s attorney, John Mancini, told the board that the restaurant had taken significant steps towards tackling complaints previously made by neighbors. Chelo’s spent $50,000 on a new soundstage and system that would allow the restaurant personnel to control the sound levels. They are also paying for police detail on weekends and are offering free valet parking to patrons to attempt to alleviate parking congestion in neighborhood streets close to the restaurant.
Mancini then presented excerpts from a 20-minute video that showed footage of various Cowesett neighborhood locations. A narrator said the video was taken while the band was playing and that the band could not be heard from the locations at which he filmed. The board indulged several minutes of the video.
But neighbor Lisa Desjarlais, who lives on Arnold’s Neck Road, said she saw two men filming the same video from her driveway on a night the band wasn’t playing. Desjarlais also said when she called police to make a noise complaint the night before, the officer didn’t arrive until after the band had finished playing, at which time he took a decibel reading. Baxter referenced the police report from Desjarlais’ call, noting that the decibel level was well under the limit. Desjarlais said she was dissatisfied with how the police handled her complaint and said the music grew louder from 9:30 p.m. until 10 p.m., when the music ceased and the police officer came.
A handful of neighbors stepped forward to say they had made complaints to the police about noise levels but, according to reports referenced by the Board of Public Safety, all decibel readings that corresponded with the complaints were within the city sound constraints and were under 50 decibels.
Most neighbors, even those who commended Chelo’s for their improved noise and traffic mitigation measures, said they were not in favor of re-extending the hours of music to 11 p.m.
“Peaceful coexistence,” said neighbor Saberah Malik. “I urge those two words.”
If the hours and noise levels were kept the same, said Malik, the “peaceful coexistence” between the restaurant and neighbors would continue; if not, there would no longer be peace.
Florence Voccola said that Chelo’s always wants what they can’t have.
“We give them this and they want that,” she said, contending that 10 p.m. was late enough for bands.
Baxter said that other bars in the city had permits to have bands much later.
“Outside is the distinction,” said Brian Goldblatt, an attorney who represented some of the Chelo’s neighbors. Goldblatt also said that the board should also take into consideration kids getting up early for school when decided on Thursday and Sunday hours.
“School’s out next week,” countered Baxter.
Councilman Steven Merolla attended the meeting and rose to ask about the offsite parking, noting that Chelo’s has essentially doubled its parking with remote valet and employee spaces. He asked if they planned to double their capacity, and therefore their profits, too, a question Chelo didn’t take keenly to.
“We have not doubled our capacity,” said Mancini, who noted they have a capacity set by the fire marshal. “We have to accommodate that capacity by way of parking. We’re not trying to double parking to double capacity to double profits; we’re trying to survive.”
Mancini said the extra spaces and offsite parking were to alleviate traffic congestion in neighborhoods, a complaint made last season.
After a brief meeting, the board made their ruling, extending the hours of live music at Chelo’s. Bands can now once again play at the waterfront location Thursdays 6 to 10 p.m., Fridays 7 to 11 p.m., Saturdays 12 to 4 and 7 to 11 p.m. and Sundays from 2 to 8 p.m. Chelo’s will come before the board again for another review on Aug. 14.
Chelo was pleased with the outcome.
“They just added about 75 jobs,” he said.
Baxter said she didn’t hear any “groaning” from the crowd, a sign she took to mean that everyone was at least moderately pleased.