Letter to the Editor: Blu Stokes Patron Resentments

by | Mar 18, 2019

I write to express deep disappointment in Blu’s recent misrepresentation of proposed changes to our town noise ordinance. By suggesting that our town “would essentially eliminate live entertainment as a whole,” Blu incited angry knee-jerk reactions from patrons across southern New England, mostly directed at local residents. In a classic slippery slope, they argue that “jobs will be lost,” “businesses will close,” and “tax dollars will disappear.” These statements are false, hyperbolic, and inflammatory. Management’s choice to propagate such falsehoods—and then to allow patrons to disparage and insult harbor residents—is irresponsible and unneighborly. If they wish to improve good will, they should set the record straight.

Blu has claimed that the Town Council has initiated “a movement” that could “drastically change the East Greenwich summers we’ve all come to know and love.” At the most recent meeting, however, we learned that proposed changes to the noise ordinance did not arise from an overzealous council that sought draconian anti-business restrictions. Rather, the council wished to offer redress to numerous concerns brought to them by harbor residents who felt previously unheard.

Blu on the Water features outdoor music in the summer months in the tent beside the water.

Blu has left the public with the impression that the council already decided to revise its ordinance, and purposely left waterfront businesses out of that discussion. That is inaccurate. On March 4th, the council heard residents’ concerns, but made no changes to the current ordinance. Consequently, they tabled discussion. Had they been anxious to punish the waterfront, they might have rushed to push changes through. They did not. On March 11th, the council heartily invited businesses to the table to work out differences with neighbors, preferably without litigation or government intervention. For the council, any changes to the noise ordinance would be a last resort.

Sadly, this last resort may prove necessary. Negotiations in previous years halted and broke down, and problems with noise—and disrespectful behaviors of patrons—have only gotten worse. Stories abound of harbor residents who can’t enjoy peace in their homes, with nightly, wall-shaking, pulsating bass compromising their health and quality of life. This noise penetrates their tranquility, day in and day out, through the wee hours, all summer long, with no relief in sight, and little that our small police department can do to intervene. But noise is only part of much larger concerns. Litterers leave bottles, cans, and valet ticket stubs in yards. Drunk drivers and bikers careen recklessly through narrow streets. Valets and others park inappropriately. Drunks wander onto properties, vomiting, relieving themselves on doorsteps, and shouting beneath windows. Such behavior is unacceptable. While businesses can’t be held responsible for all of this, they should be partially held to account, especially if they encourage an atmosphere that over serves rowdy club-goers.

The harbor has long been disrespected, as if residents here should be treated differently. In the last meeting, a resident referred to the harbor as “the red-headed stepchild” of East Greenwich. Living below Main Street for nearly two decades, I largely concur. It often feels like different rules apply to the harbor. Sadly, by allowing scores of patrons to make hurtful and ill-informed comments toward residents, Blu exacerbated disrespect toward its neighbors. On Blu’s Facebook page, harbor residents were called “petty rich people,” “stuck up old ass people with no lives,” and “new money pricks,” among other choice insults. By allowing hateful commentary to be directed toward neighbors, Blu has not only undermined peaceful cooperation, but has also risked hurting their business, by alienating people in town who might otherwise be customers.

Blu has suggested that limiting after hours noise in the waterfront to 60 decibels would effectively ban live music. This is misleading. Reducing our decibel level would put us in line with surrounding communities, and would set our limits 10 decibels louder than Boston. Can anyone argue with a straight face that Boston destroyed its night scene, or is no longer a desirable location for restaurants or nightclubs, because it lowered its decibel level to 50? Limiting the acceptable after-hours decibel level to 60, outside the property boundary of the establishment, would not eliminate live outdoor music. Neighbors are simply asking businesses to turn down the volume from “11.”

Personally, I prefer to give my business to a restaurant where I can carry on conversations with friends and family without having to shout over the din. I’m sure I’m not alone. In fact, lowering decibel levels could potentially improve the customer experience for like-minded restaurant goers who might support these establishments.

My wife and I are longtime patrons of Blu, and often enjoy dinner and drinks there. Living in the harbor, I have been pleased with recent development of Main Street and the waterfront. I love living within walking distance of wonderful restaurants and premier entertainment. I do not hear any noise from the waterfront at my house, and I am not bothered by what I hear when I regularly walk by the waterfront in the summer. But businesses should be a little more respectful toward their neighbors, many of whom may be potential patrons themselves. It doesn’t seem like that much to ask for businesses to turn down the volume of music, install additional soundproofing or sound limiting equipment, and negotiate respectfully with neighbors.

Although waterfront noise doesn’t bother me, I stand in solidarity with my neighbors on the other side of the tracks. I believe their stories of the intolerable noise they face. While the Chelos promised to offer “smooth rock,” country, and jazz to its patrons when they first opened Blu, the reality for neighbors has been far from the light, mellow, soft rock sounds one might expect. The throbbing bass and bone-shaking noise experienced late into the night and early morning by local residents is hardly shuffleboard-ready. What Craig Chelo described as live music that “East Greenwich residents would really appreciate,” has been far from that for many harbor residents. In fact, it was recently described by one resident as “hell.”

Blu’s appearance in 2012 coincides directly with complaints made about the Chelos’ establishment in Warwick, which led to reconsideration of that city’s noise ordinance. In an article published in the Warwick Beacon at that time, Ward 9 Councilman Steven Merolla was quoted as observing that “Chelo’s on the Waterfront has been booking bands with large followings, thus, attracting more patrons.” Hence, “parking is needed and patrons are parking in front of peoples’ homes.” Even more disturbingly, Merolla noted that patrons were behaving badly, by “urinating and vomiting on private property,” and “drinking beer from cans and bottles as they walk from their cars to the venue and littering before entering establishments.”

Sadly, this description sounds altogether too familiar, as it perfectly describes the East Greenwich waterfront in recent years. In order to circumvent government intervention in Warwick, the Chelos simply moved their live music operation, in the hopes that they could get a better deal from the government who might adopt a more laissez-faire approach. This is unacceptable. Residents in all of East Greenwich must stand up for each other’s rights, and let businesses know when they have overstepped their boundaries. That is not anti-business. It’s just civilized common sense.

By stoking resentment among patrons in neighboring communities and states, Blu adds fuel to a fire that could have dangerous consequences. A petition with thousands of signatures has been circulated. A rally “to save live music and the EG waterfront” is currently planned. News stories were broadcast on two major television networks. Blu’s words have inflamed significant vitriol directed at residents. One patron vowed revenge by threatening to drive through our neighborhoods with music blasting from her car speakers. Patrons notorious for disrespecting people’s homes and properties might now be emboldened further to disrespect those same residents, thus placing more stress on our overworked police department, who lacks the manpower or resources to handle large summer crowds. We already have too many drunk drivers traversing our neighborhood, speeding and blowing through stop signs. We have too many drunks behaving obnoxiously on foot. This is a recipe for disaster, and Blu should tamp down the possible conflagration—and even possible incitements to lawbreaking—that it has tacitly approved, if not actively encouraged.

Nobody wishes to live in a community devoid of live music. Nobody wants to discourage vibrant and bustling businesses, which contribute to our economic success, and make us a preferred Rhode Island destination to live and play. Nobody wants businesses to shut down or go away. I wish both sides well. I hope agreements can be reached that are satisfactory to all parties. I wish no ill will toward Blu or any other waterfront restaurants, which I frequent during the summers, and hope to continue to enjoy. However, Blu would be well-advised to adopt a kinder, more respectful approach, which shows they are listening, can consider perspectives of neighbors, and can act accordingly. Adopting a positive, respectful attitude—and encouraging others to do the same—will make the harbor and the waterfront more enjoyable for everyone.

Sincerely,
James Patrick Gorham

 

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20 Comments

  1. Dawn

    Our local police don’t have a problem or lack of man power to shut down my Karaoke session at my house before midnight on Christmas Eve. Which I know doesn’t come close to the noise level down on the water. So I think they can fully handle Blu and the businesses on the water during the summer. Maybe you should consider moving or demanding more be done for you from your town. We do pay the highest taxes in all RI. Maybe some of those firefighters who are getting paid all this over time should assist our local authorities. Or maybe our police should be paid more than the fire dept. Hmm. Something to think about.

    Reply
  2. Brian Franklin

    Well said and couldn’t agree more.

    Reply
  3. Charles Callanan

    In typical fashion the author is a solid member of the Democratic progressive machine that has played havoc in this town and anyone who opposes them. Beware citizens that anything but total Agreement with these sycophants will bring with it anonymous trolls and potentially protests. The author knows nothing of business has very little understanding of anything outside his own narrow ideology and will support this council in every extreme position they bring. Bottom line you can not treat one set of businesses different through a noise ordinance than others. His own comments on how seasonal business such as Blu operates demonstrates this. Also note Finns Harborside is left out because it is easier to go after a corporate than the well known Finn family that is not growing to takes this well at all. Time for folks to know what they are up against. This is more than just Blu this is about total control. Trust me you will pay fo it one way or he other. Something note Council VP Donnagan was thrown a fund raiser by an apposing group and should recuse himself from any such deliberations on this matter. Also ask yourself why the so-called the main news source of this town contributes to the DNC giving letters like this more opportunity to be published than they should. The game is rigged.

    Reply
    • J Smith

      I think you’re way off base here, Charles. Your words, “Bottom line you can not treat one set of businesses different through a noise ordinance than others.” In fact, that is exactly what’s being discussed here and the point everyone seems to be missing. Right now, there is a completely independent noise ordinance set for the harbor neighborhood vs the rest of East Greenwich. There are only 4 commercial establishments in this defined area – Blu, Nautika, Harborside, and the East Greenwich Fireman’s Association. From Memorial Day to the last day of September, these establishments are allowed to play outdoor music at a much higher level than every other business in town, and until much later. That’s a fact. Obviously, there’s a lot that needs to be addressed as it pertains to Summertime problems at the waterfront, but misquoting the situation in the message boards doesn’t help anything. You should familiarize yourself with the current Noise Ordinance. I’ve included the link here for your quick reference, (152-4-B) https://ecode360.com/9711534

      Reply
    • Gary Michaels

      Charles,

      Instead of trying to meet people halfway and have an honest dialogue about an issue, you’re showing your lack of openness to your neighbors, your blame it on the media excuse making, the ol’ “rigged” argument, and outright name calling.

      I know it took a lot for you to pull yourself away from Fox News to type that reply. But please try to show some class, civility, and downright decency when dealing with people and issues. Come forward with facts and ideas and not the attacks you spewed. It’s obvious you’re trying to enact the same game plan as our Tweeter/Golfer/Liar-in-Chief. But we deserve better and so do you.

      Reply
    • Mike Donegan

      Charles, I fully support your engagement, as we all benefit from it. We truly do. However, I do want to correct one factual error. At no time did any “opposing group” hold a fundraiser for me or any other Council Member. You may want to check your source for this misinformation. That claim may serve some partisan narrative, but it is false. My interest here as an official is to strike a balance between the businesses and the residents that addresses the current problems, which are undeniable. Please stay engaged, but maybe just ask me next time, so you have the correct facts. You and I communicate reasonably, so please just ask me. Oh, by the way, as to your concern regarding treating the waterfront businesses “differently” with respect to noise levels, it may be helpful to refer to the current Ordinance regarding noise on the waterfront. That district already is treated independently and has been for years. This sort of noise regulation is a legal, common and effective exercise of governmental authority used in communities where businesses operate in residential neighborhoods. They are sometimes necessary to strike a balance between these often competing interests. Moreover, the existing waterfront district noise Ordinance was established and maintained by prior Councils, all of whom were Republican. What we are evaluating now is simply the proper noise level within the district already created by prior Republican Councils, which I support. So, perhaps this issue isn’t a partisan issue, but just something that good government is supposed to address, as circumstances in our community change? For my part, that is how I see it. Also, as you may know, the Council has postponed action on the issue and invited the businesses and residents to work with our Police Chief and the Town Manager to try and work through this together. All have accepted the invitation and they are currently in that process. I am hopeful that this can be worked out between the stakeholders. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me directly. I would be more than happy to discuss this with you. Regards, Mike

      Reply
  4. F. Entrater

    New to EG, dined at BLU and will never return because male servers are reasonably dressed while females are METOO nightmares.So this eloquent letter only reinforces future avoidance.

    Reply
  5. Dennis Shine

    Thank you! Well said!

    Reply
  6. Craven

    James, a well thought out and logical response to the hyperbole of the Chelos crew. There is middle ground that can be reached. As you point out, it doesn’t appear the Chelos want to be good neighbors nor civil corporate citizens. Instead they spin vitriol causing the knee jerk reaction you correctly point out. You also correctly point out the similar issues neighbors felt in Warwick with noise and filth from the over-served patrons at Chelos on the waterfront. Warwick went after them the music was lowered and there was zero impact to their business. Well done, James.

    Reply
  7. Steve Owren

    Very well written…..as a former resident of Castle St. In the days when we never felt a need to lock our doors. I wholeheartedly agree with your viewpoint.

    Reply
  8. Mark Thompson

    There is something peculiar about the tone and tenor of the support being shown these establishments on the waterfront. Have no idea what, but as a long-time reporter I feel it.

    Reply
  9. Eric Christopher

    This is a one-sided piece and the alternate position should have been included. I own property in the same location, 15 years, and I have NEVER had an issue. Also, I have never heard my neighbors say they had concerns. The businesses there are what make East Greenwich a vibrant, amazing community. The bottom line– you don’t buy property in a commercial, waterfront restaurant area if you don’t want some added noise. The excitement on a few summer weekends and environment is expected and livens up our Town. The businesses there are excellent and a great opportunity for the city. The area is zoned for business– and those who bought into it, even many decades ago knew that. I knew this when I bought my property. I think many others did as well. And, yes, the East Greenwich economy will be impacted significantly without the economic development that these businesses bring. That is basic economy 101 knowledge: It’s not only the increased tax revenue that these business bring– they also add to the town’s branding, further business expansion, employment, increase property value, low crime, more city services, the best schools in our state… This town is in a great direction and such a shame if some kill its path.

    Reply
    • Bill

      It is hard to imagine that you live in the property you own in the waterfront district and have not experienced the disrespectful, rude, drunk patrons of these businesses that we live with Every night the bands play. We love live music and could even tolerate the current decibel level – if the patrons would act as though they were in their parents’ or grandparents’ neighborhood, rather than spring break at Daytona. Keep the bands. But close the bars Much earlier.

      Reply
    • Elizabeth McNamara

      Eric, feel free to submit a letter to the editor if you would like.

      Reply
      • Jeffrey Stevens

        Eric isn’t your property is on the corner of Division and Duke? If so, it is less in the line of sight/hearing of waterfront patrons. You are more likely to be affected by Valets zooming around from Main St. Also, you didn’t say you actually lived in it so, for all I know, your tenants may differ in opinion.

        Reply
  10. Judi

    Personally, I think an unannounced visit by the Council to the establishments and to surrounding residents to witness first hand the noise level and disruptions would be more constructive than theseback and forth verbal attacks… Video tape the visit, and see first hand.

    Reply
  11. Mb

    Does anyone remember when smoking was banned in restaurants in East Greenwich? Similar rhetoric about restaurants going out of business. In fact, I think there are more restaurants now than in 1998, and other towns and states have followed suit.
    We were leaders, not followers, who considered the facts on their merit.

    Reply
  12. David Caldwell

    I spoke with voters in the Harbour District helping Justine Caldwell campaign for State Representative and can confirm this issue — or rather, these issues, including both the noise level and patron conduct after leaving these establishments — came up multiple times. it’s a real pain point for residents there, and it didn’t just boil over in the last month or two, and this isn’t residents’ first attempt to address it — multiple residents were already working together to address their concerns in 2018.

    There’s more than one problem to solve, and it sounds like the various affected individuals and organizations are on their way to at least having a conversation and trying to narrow their disagreements. I hope all parties continue with, or adopt, a constructive tone so that decisionmakers can use the lightest touch possible — ideally, no intervention at all — in this dispute.

    Reply
  13. Jessica

    This is extremely one sided. Stop trying to blame BLU for the rhetoric and fear mongering, it is you and the council doing that – and the supposed “neighbors”. I have been there all summer long – BLU, FINNS, etc., and let me tell you something. It is incredibly disheartening, not to mention intimidating, and ridiculous how the EG cops are being used as legalized gang members to stalk these establishments with a decibel monitoring device and to watch these bands be shut down and restaurants be fined for being one or two decibels over. You people are snotty and ridiculous, and when your taxes go up more than they already are, and there is nothing to do in your town, don’t cry about it – you caused it your own selves.

    Reply
  14. Bill

    Exactly. Chelos continues to do and say the wrong things. As a result, the Town Council should, and will, take action. The new ordinance will not kill any of the waterfront restaurants as great summer venues. But hopefully will help make the EG waterfront a better place for all to live in and visit.

    Reply

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