Selectmen Approve The Port’s Seasonal Liquor License

By: William F. Galvin

The Port Restaurant. FILE PHOTO

HARWICH — After six hours of testimony and debate, selectmen finally approved the seasonal all-alcoholic beverage license for The Port Restaurant and Bar.

However, the board withheld action on the establishment's seasonal entertainment license and on three alleged violations of COVID-19 guideline provisions put in place by the commonwealth.

Given the lateness of the hour last Tuesday, selectmen agreed to continue deliberations on the entertainment license and the three violations on Wednesday, May 12.

At the start of the hearing, town counsel Jeffrey Blake sought to establish protocol to eliminate the disruptions that occurred in a previous hearing for license renewals and one COVID-19 guideline violation at Ember Pizza. Both establishments are owned by Justin Brackett and Jared Brackett.

Blake attributed constant disruptions in the earlier hearing to the owners' lawyers. Blake said the Attorney General has made it clear the board chair has the authority to control the meeting and can have a disruptive person removed from the hearing.

However, during the lengthy virtual session, which drew 234 remote viewers, there was continued back and forth between Blake and attorney Raymond Tomlinson, representing The Port, and selectmen over the line of questioning, cross-examination and objections. There were also a number of intrusive comments from viewers, and Tomlinson raised questions about why the board included the COVID-19 guideline violations in the same hearing as the request for a liquor and entertainment license renewal.

Much of the focus was on noise. In a memorandum, Police Chief David Guillemette raised major concerns about the issuance of the entertainment license, though he stated the primary issue was crowd noise. Guillemette said he was concerned about expanded seating with the addition of a tent and music, which he said would increase noise.

He also said there has been an increase in traffic and parking issues in the Sea Street neighborhood. Neighbors have complained about late night noise and the use of bushes as a bathroom. Guillemette said in 2020 there were nine complaints directly related to the restaurant. Residents have reported COVID-19 guidelines not being followed and say “the restaurant is becoming more like a nightclub,” he said.

Tomlinson said The Port did not have live music in 2020 and argued music, noise, and late night disturbances could be coming from the other establishments in the area. He said the Sea Street parking is used by other establishments as well.

Pleasant Street resident Bob Cohn spoke of an informal noise survey he conducted in July 2019 on music from The Port. He said on 15 nights music could be heard 800 feet away. The town noise bylaw establishes a violation for music “plainly audible” at 150 feet. Cohn also took issue with being “targeted on social media” for comments he made in the Ember Pizza hearing.

“The neighbors are asking you to turn the music down and be good neighbors,” Cohn said.

Sea Street resident Joseph Ganley said conditions became “meaningfully worse” with the COVID-19 conditions at The Port last year. He said the vast majority of the noise was not from music but from patron noise. “The outdoor tent was a game changer,” Ganley said. “It moved the noise closer to the neighbors. It created a raucous, loud environment.”

Blake asked Ganley about the police chief’s comments about intoxicated individuals causing disturbances when leaving the establishment. Ganley said he never made a complaint until the tent went up last summer. Patron noise would keep his kids from falling asleep and people would relieve themselves in the bushes, he said. There was yelling, screaming and arguments in the adjacent parking lot.

Ganley said he was not suggesting selectmen shut down the business or revoke its liquor license, but he wanted the town’s noise bylaw enforced.

Last summer The Port reinvented themselves because of COVID-19 and they did so at the cost of the neighbors, said Maura Sharry, a Sea Street resident. She said music and noise became an issue along with people leaving the restaurant late at night. Sharry said people were moving about without masks and hitting beach balls back and forth in groups in the back lot.

Sharry said she called The Port many times to complain about the situation and she was “completely ignored.” She said they never called back.

Rebecca Scanlan, a member of the wait staff at The Port, said she was speaking for fellow staff members who could have taken federal and state unemployment and stayed at home but chose to come back to work because it was important to provide a service for the community. She said staff came to work every day scared and fearful of getting sick or getting a family member sick.

“For it we’re being hurt and disrespected,” Scanlan said. Single moms with children rely on the jobs to put food on the table, she said, and the window of opportunity is getting shorter and shorter for staff members as the season approaches. The selectmen can go home and get a good night’s sleep, but The Port staff “will be losing sleep, worrying about losing their jobs,” she said.

“We saw political divisiveness take this country apart. We don’t need that in our town,” Dina Browne, a resident of Lewis Lane, said of the battles between town officials and the owners of the restaurant. She questioned the drawn-out timeframe of hearings.

Browne said she has seen no COVID-19 violations during her time in the restaurant. She also said there were no liquor or entertainment violations in 2020. The selectmen issued the seasonal liquor and entertainment licenses for 2020, Browne said, and the board can’t go back before 2020 and cite earlier issues.

“Adjusting to the COVID-19 regulations has been an issue for all of us,” Browne said. “Don’t let it destroy the Bracketts or the Bracketts’ staff.”

Selectman Donald Howell, referencing the lateness of the hour, offered a motion to continue the hearing.

“You must move forward,” Lucie Brackett said. “Lives and livelihoods are at stake here.”

After a lot of back and forth and efforts to reach a decision, especially on the issuance of the seasonal liquor license, a recess was called during which two selectmen met with town counsel and Tomlinson spoke with his clients.

An agreement was reached to approve the seasonal liquor license, including the use of three bars in the front portion of the establishment. Service is allowed along the sidewalk and on the rear deck, but no liquor is allowed beyond the back wall of the establishment. Tomlinson said his clients would provide their email addresses to improve communication with neighbors.

While no action was taken on the entertainment license, the board allowed ambient music through the in-house sound system. The May 12 hearing will address the entertainment license and COVID-19 guideline violations determined by the town administrator.

Selectmen Uphold Denial Of Tent For Port

HARWICH — Selectmen on Monday night stood by their vote not to allow outdoor dining in a tent at The Port Restaurant and Bar.

The initial denial was based on complaints of noise and disturbances from the neighbors. Selectmen said the restaurant offered little compromise in the latest request for a tent to be located in the rear its parking lot.

Port attorney Raymond Tomlinson disagreed. He told selectmen the restaurant owners are willing to plant a barrier of Leland cypress trees along the back property line and add another wall of trees along the back edge of the property along Sea Street to buffer neighbors from noise.

Tomlinson said the 20-by-60-foot tent would also be relocated, moved 10 feet farther away from the property lines where it was located last summer. Seven parking spaces would be preserved in the lot to address neighborhood parking issues that have been raised, he added.

Efforts were made last week by restaurant management to meet with neighbors over the noise issues, Tomlinson said, but neighbors declined. The owners agreed to reduce late-night service in the tent, with the last seating at 10 p.m. and the tent closing at midnight. The owners have already secured a tent and were required to pay close to $4,000 a month through the terms of the contract, he said.

Selectmen focused on noise and the seating capacity of the restaurant. The restaurant seats 84 people inside and another 44 seats outside. Tomlinson said patrons want to dine outside, and added that the restaurant does not exceed its seating capacity.

Selectman Michael MacAskill said with adjustments to the outside deck, table arrangements and seating could address outside seating needs without a tent, which he said he would not support.

Gov. Baker said these additions should be made available to protect businesses and a little noise would be expected, Tomlinson responded.

“Quality of life issues have been ruined and neighbors are not enjoying their homes,” MacAskill said. “The outdoor noise is too much.”

“You are putting the concerns of a few neighbors, which can be mitigated, over the needs for public health and safety while dining,” Tomlinson fired back.

Selectmen voted 3-1 to reconsider the previous vote denying the tent, but no motion was offered to approve the request.