Decision pending after emergency DBR hearing on Ballard’s appeal

Updated at 7:30 p.m. on Aug. 23

SUMMER DRAWS: Ballard’s hotel and beach club in Old Town is one of Block Island’s oldest and most popular businesses.  / PBN PHOTO/K. Curtis
AFTER AN ALMOST six-hour public hearing, the New Shoreham Board of License Commission voted unanimously to suspend Ballard's Beach Resort's liquor and entertainments licenses for 14 days. / PBN FILE PHOTO/K. CURTIS

NEW SHOREHAM – Ballard’s Beach Resort has appealed the decision by the New Shoreham Board of License Commissioners to suspend the liquor and entertainment licenses of the popular Block Island destination for 14 days.

The appeal triggered a hearing at the R.I. Department of Business Regulation at 2 p.m. Tuesday to determine whether to stay the suspension. The hearing ended without a decision, and it wasn’t immediately clear when a decision would be rendered.

Ballard’s spokesperson Kimberly Poland released a statement: “We anticipated the Town Council’s obviously pre-scripted decision read aloud, and not even discussed by the Board of License Commissioners, after nearly five hours of live testimony at [Monday’s] show cause hearing. Ballard’s will immediately appeal the baseless decision to the Rhode Island Department of Business Regulation and Superior Court. We will refrain from further comment until we have more information to share.”

If the suspension is upheld, it would come in the final weeks of the high tourism season, including Labor Day weekend, potentially a busy three-day weekend on the island and the beach club.

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The appeal by Ballard’s follows an almost six-hour long public hearing on Monday in which the town council members – sitting as the town’s license commissioners – heard from several witnesses, and the panel voted unanimously to temporarily suspend the popular Block Island resort’s licenses for two weeks.

“After hearing all of tonight’s testimony, this decision is not hard for me,” Councilman Mark Emmanuelle said Monday night. He had supported a stricter suspension. “If we were to list all the benefits of that event and all the negative byproducts and collateral damage, that whiteboard we listed them on would be very lopsided.”

The decision came two weeks after a series of fights broke out at a reggae festival organized by the resort on Aug. 8 and on a ferry leaving the island later the same day.

R.I. State Police first responded to reports of a fight at Ballard’s Beach Resort, where one person was arrested for disorderly conduct. Later that night, another fight broke out on a ferry traveling back to Narragansett, resulting in the arrest of seven more people. The police said two people were taken to the hospital and reported minor injuries.

Soon after the night of arrests, Ballard’s canceled its Roots and Rhythm Festival scheduled for Aug. 21.

At the beginning of Monday’s meeting, Ballard’s lawyer Brian LaPlante urged the town council to dismiss the case, citing “prejudgment” and “bias” against his client. But the board decided to move forward with the scheduled hearing and over the next several hours examined video footage from Aug. 8 and heard several testimonies.

Witnesses included R.I. State Police Capt. Peter Chabot, who was named the interim Block Island police chief in June and was also on duty on Aug. 8, and multiple members of the public who participated in the reggae music festival.

Ballard’s owner Steve Filippi spoke toward the end of the hearing, admitting his event attracted a larger crowd than expected but added he does not control the ferries and is not responsible for security on them. Filippi also denied that there was a “mass exodus.”

At the end of the meeting, the council voted unanimously for the suspension, saying that Ballard’s allowed the “establishment to become disorderly,” “presented a danger to public health and safety” and hosted the event with “inadequate staffing, security or a plan in place to safely operate a large-scale event.”

“What we saw on Aug. 8 and what we heard today was to me very clearly an impingement on the neighborhood,” said Councilman Keith Stover.

“There have got to be ways of not letting something like this happen again,” said Councilwoman Martha Ball.

UPDATES with the appeal by Ballard’s Beach Resort of the New Shoreham Board of License Commissioners’ decision to suspend its licenses for 14 days.

UPDATES with no decision rendered Tuesday by the R.I. Department of Business Regulation.

UPDATES headline updated

Claudia Chiappa is a PBN staff writer. You may contact her at Chiappa@PBN.com.

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