A lawyer for John Davis addresses the Town Council Monday night.
It was deja vu all over again when the Town Council Monday took up for the third time an application by owners of the proposed Havana restaurant at 11 Main Street for a full entertainment license. Councilors restated positions they’d voiced the last time the matter was before them, on May 13. Only this time, they took the vote they had delayed that night, denying Havana’s request, 2-2.
Councilmen Jeff Cianciolo and Mike Kiernan voted to grant the full license; Councilmen Michael Isaacs and Mark Gee opposed. Councilman Brad Bishop, who had voiced opposition to the proposal at two past meetings, was absent.
The Council voted 3-1 (Gee dissenting) to grant Havana a partial entertainment license, which would allow singers and one or two instrumentalists (similar to what’s been granted to some other restaurants on Main Street).
After the vote, John Davis, one of the two principals behind the Cuban-themed Havana, said he had no comment, but his frustration was evident. At the two earlier hearings, Davis had suggested he would not open without a full entertainment license.
In his application, he had said he would make significant upgrades to the building, including new windows and the addition of sound-absorbing curtains. At the meeting Monday night, Davis brought along Joe Welch, the owner of Northeast Noise Abatement of Warwick. Welch, whose company specializes in keeping noise out (such as for houses near airports), told the council he thought replacing the windows and adding curtains would be “more than enough” to keep noise levels within town regulations.
When pressed by Gee on his expertise on sound abatement from the inside out, Welch said it was largely the same thing.
“Bringing it in, letting it out, we’re doing the exact same thing,” said Welch. “The sound is always coming out or in through the windows, or the doors, or through the attic. That’s the only place it’s going to come from.”
During public comment, resident Sam Scott, who lives behind the proposed restaurant, said again he was against the council granting a full entertainment license. He brought up the ghost that’s been hanging over the entire proceedings, Rok Bar, which closed in January but not before traumatizing neighbors with its loud music reverberations.
“When we couldn’t get to sleep because of the noise, when we were awakened by the noise, we would call the police who responded promptly and courteously, but we’re tired of complaining,” said Scott. “What happens if, despite these measures, the noise comes through, what do we do then?”
Two other EG residents and a representative from the EG Chamber of Commerce spoke in favor of granting Havana the full license, neither of whom live in the neighborhood in question. But they both said they thought – as did Cianciolo and Kiernan – the owners deserved a chance to prove themselves.
For Mark Gee, his opposition to the restaurant appeared to only have grown since the last discussion. Beyond the application for the entertainment license, Gee said he thought the whole “nightclub” concept was wrong for that spot. In addition, he suggested it would be hard for owners to just give up the license if the council were to revoke it later.
Addressing Davis, Gee said, “I don’t think … you would stop and say, ‘That’s fine.’ You made a substantial investment and you want to protect that investment.”
Michael Isaacs said it was appropriate to treat parts of town differently, addressing the sentiment at earlier meetings that since the restaurants on Water Street have full entertainment licenses, Havana should be able to also.
“The waterfront restaurants have been there for 30 to 40 years. We have a lot of procedures in place down there. As we move up to Main Street, we have not had nightclub-type restaurants on Main Street. What troubles me about this is that the business plan sounds very much like the description of Rok Bar.”
Davis countered that the restaurant would not be a place for cheap drinks, “fry cook” food and loud music. He said he had already been speaking with a “three-figure chef” about taking on the kitchen.
For Cianciolo, denying the full entertainment license would be a sign of government overreach.
“I just don’t think it would be appropriate for this council to hold the applicant responsible for a prior tenant at this location,” said Cianciolo. Kiernan agreed.
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