Entertainment licenses debated

Sun, 11/22/2015 - 7:45pm
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Members of the Block Island community voiced concerns about the Town Council’s granting of a new outdoor entertainment license to Steve Filippi and Blake Filippi, the new owners of the Hotel Manisses on Spring Street. The Filippis are refurbishing the property and intend to have jazz music playing during the evenings in the back of the property where a bar will be situated during the summer months. Steve Filippi said that he felt the criticism was premature, as they hadn’t even opened yet.

The discussion about the restaurant at the Manisses was the last item on the Council’s agenda at its annual liquor license meeting held on Monday, Nov. 16, at 4 p.m. at Town Hall. About 50 people packed into the chamber to hear the Town Council’s renewal and granting of liquor licenses to numerous island establishments, as well as to engage in the lively discourse that ensued regarding the Manisses restaurant.

There was a chorus of concerns voiced to the Council from members of the public about the Manisses. Some dissenters said that they were worried about the Filippis’ future plans for the property. The most vocal were the abutters who were invited to the public hearing.

First Warden Ken Lacoste recused himself from the discussion concerning the Manisses. “I’m recusing because I am a direct abutter behind it,” said the First Warden before exiting the chamber.

That didn’t deter Lacoste’s wife, Marlee, from speaking in opposition to the granting of the outdoor entertainment license. The Lacoste’s home is situated on High Street near the Manisses.

“We know it’s summer and you put up with it, but to think of increasing what we’ve had, and an outdoor bar, encouraging more people to be sitting around outside, that’s very concerning to us,” said Marlee Lacoste. She called Block Island “wedding central” and noted that her family doesn’t mind the weddings and enjoys them “vicariously,” but “the thought of having a bar out back, and blender drinks — you know, it’s a summer bar. Even if it shuts down by nine o’clock at night, and everything after that is inside, it’s the physical way that the valley is shaped. It is such a natural amphitheater. All that sound comes up, and then you hear all the noise.”

She added that, “When the valley was full of more brush and hadn’t been cleared, it helped to deaden the sound. Since all the brush got cleared away you can hear things more clearly.”

Abutter Pat Doyle stressed her concerns over a lack of information about the property. “We have no idea what’s coming with the new owners. And we don’t know the plan for further expansion,” said Doyle, who noted that her property on High Street of 26 years is located 125 feet from the Manisses back patio. Doyle spoke for approximately 15 minutes in opposition to granting the license to the Manisses.

“The reason we object to it” is the noise,” Doyle said. “The noise from the property carries. It’s like an amphitheater.” 

Doyle asserted that, “As abutters, we share almost 100 feet of direct property line to the Manisses. We are all located in a residential C mixed use zone.” She said that all the other establishments that were granted outdoor licenses, “except for three,” are “in commercial coastal” zones.

“We’re very pleased to see the Manisses be turned over to someone within the community,” Doyle said. “Steve (Filippi) has worked with me on various fundraisers. But we knew nothing about their expansion outside.”

Resident Bob Perry said he “thinks the world of the Filippis, but I have a problem with outdoor entertainment licenses. I don’t need it right next door to me. I like my quiet.”

Harbor Church Pastor Steve Holloway said, “Physically, I might be the closest person to the patio at the Manisses. It’s right there across the street. It’s just a little too close. The thought of having bands playing or something, it’s kind of worrisome to us.”

“We do already get plenty of noise coming down from martini night” at the Spring House, said Holloway. “And they don’t stop at nine o’clock. You’re wary because that wind coming from the west is going to carry (from the Manisses) right into my windows. So, if you do grant the license, I hope you have some kind of limits.”

“I guess we’ve done the gamut of the crowd,” said Second Warden Norris Pike, running the meeting in place of the recused Ken Lacoste. “Your response?” Pike asked of Steve Filippi. 

“It’s not fair. You’re not giving us a chance. We haven’t served one drink yet,” said Steve Filippi, while standing and facing the crowd. “We haven’t done one thing wrong. Not one thing.”

Steve Filippi, who attended the council meeting alongside his brother, Blake, questioned why his ownership of the property should prevent the Manisses from continuing the Drapers’ tradition, which included having an outdoor entertainment license.

“As far as expansion, those are schematics,” continued Filippi. “We’re just adding a bar for special events. We have no plans, and no vision of having a band playing out there. The seating is going to stay the same.”

Filippi said he believes that the community has misconstrued his vision for the property. “We have a vision for what the Manisses is, and I think a lot of people’s vision of what we’re going to do, is completely wrong. What we want to do with the Manisses is redecorate it and keep the same clientele that the Drapers had. And the Drapers had an outdoor entertainment license for 10, 15 or 20 years.”

“My gut feeling is that they’re thinking of Ballard’s, and they’re worried,” said Pike.

“It’s not going to be Ballard’s,” said Steve Filippi.

“We don’t know what you’re planning,” said Doyle, stating that Filippi was quoted in The Block Island Times on Oct. 26, saying that there will be “an outside bar, outside patio and deck. So, we’re concerned about the increased traffic coming and going. It’s a nuisance. We live in a heavily residential area, where Ballard’s is not.”

The Filippis’ attorney, Erik Wallin, said, “When we started this project the intent was to do what the previous owner did. A big part of their business was the wedding business. It’s not their intent to replicate what is going on at Ballard’s.”

“There’s a lot of emotion about a new owner coming in. The complaints that you’re hearing tonight you’ve never heard before” concerning the property, said Wallin. “All I ask is that you give Steve and Blake a chance to show that they can be responsible.”

Pike said that the Town Council “has heard a number of concerns about the potential for abuse. And, quite frankly, an outside bar does get a little noisy, even if you’re trying to contain it. It’s the nature of the beast.”

After 50 minutes of deliberations over the subject, the Town Council decided to continue the discussion at a newly scheduled meeting on Monday, Nov. 30 at 5 p.m.

At the meeting, the Surf Hotel and the Poor People’s Pub were granted renewal of their outdoor entertainment licenses with conditions related to compliance with the noise ordinances for their respective zones.

Granting a new liquor license to the Topside Café, and for extending the hours of when it can serve alcohol, will also be discussed at the Nov. 30 meeting.

The next Town Council meeting is a work session on Dec. 2 at 4 p.m.