DBR issues stay of Ballard’s liquor license suspension

THE R.I. DEPARTMENT OF BUSINESS REGULATION issued a stay Wednesday on the 14-day suspension of Ballard's Beach Resort's liquor license. PBN FILE PHOTO/K. CURTIS

PROVIDENCE – The R.I. Department of Business Regulation sided with Ballard’s Beach Resort Wednesday, issuing a stay of New Shoreham Board of License Commissioners’ decision to suspend the liquor license of the popular Block Island destination for 14 days.

The DBR decision, signed by Interim Director Elizabeth Kelleher Dwyer and Hearing Officer Catherine R. Warren, noted that the ruling did not affect the suspension of Ballard’s entertainment license, which the New Shoreham commissioners also revoked for 14 days.

The stay ruling came after Ballard’s appeal of its license suspension on Monday triggered an emergency DBR hearing on Tuesday.

The stay is at least a partial victory for Ballard’s, which has been under fire since 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.

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DBR said the stay of the suspension allows Ballard’s to have a full hearing on the merits of the suspension before it takes effect. Another hearing on the matter has yet to be scheduled.

But a stay means that Ballard’s can still serve liquor and alcohol in the final weeks of the high tourism season, including during Labor Day weekend, potentially a busy three-day weekend on the island and at the beach club.

“The DBR stayed the suspension until a full hearing on the merits, allowing Ballard’s to reopen immediately with a full food and bar menu,” Ballard’s spokesperson Kimberly Poland said in a statement. “We take pride in being a longtime member of the Block Island community, and the safety of both our guests and neighbors is paramount. We will continue to collaborate with the Town and our fellow Islanders while we proudly serve our valued patrons.”

In the ruling, the DBR indicated that, while Ballard’s acknowledged there was one incidence of disorderly conduct on the premises, the 14-day suspension of the liquor license might prove to be too harsh under the circumstances.

“While the town has a substantially likelihood of success to show there was a disorderly conduct violation… it does not have a substantial likelihood of success to show that a 14-day suspension is appropriate,” DBR said.

It is unclear whether altercations on the ferry were caused by conduct inside Ballard’s, DBR said. “And even if the town could prove those allegations, there is an issue of whether the 14-day suspension is appropriate.”

The DBR indicated that it was not concerned that the stay would lead to a similar incident at Ballard’s.

“The appellant’s entertainment license was suspended so there will be no entertainment over the next 14 days, and it is the entertainment that caused the crowds on August 8, 2022,” the DBR said in the ruling. “Since there will be no entertainment over the next 14 days, the potential public safety issue is not a factor.”

The suspension of the liquor license and entertainment license followed 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.

According to testimony at that hearing, the R.I. State Police responded on Aug. 8 to reports of a fight at Ballard’s, 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.

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 acknowledged that 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” from the club.

The council at meeting’s end 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.”

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