2016-06-23 / Front Page

Booze Allowed on Beach

Wedding Venue Can Serve Alcohol on Beach
By Olga Enger

After nearly two hours of discussion, Middletown Town Council gave a cautious nod to the recently unveiled Newport Beach House and granted the new wedding venue permission to serve alcohol and provide live music on the beach.

Longwood Venues, the Bostonbased company that owns Belle Mer on Goat Island, purchased the Atlantic Beach Club in January for $12 million and reopened it as the Newport Beach House earlier this month.

One hesitation for neighbors and some councilors was the uncertainty over public beach access. The venue owns the beach out to the high water mark; beyond there, the beach is public domain under state law.

“Our pledge is to maintain open, unobstructed public use of the beach,” said attorney Brian Bardorf, representing Longwood.

The Rhode Island Constitution protects public rights to walk, swim, and fish along the shore. And, according to the Coastal Resources Management Council (CRMC), public access to the shoreline has a critical role in Rhode Island history and has been essential for fishing, transportation, military defenses, and even providing seaweed for farmland.

Councilor Henry Lombardi said the high water mark was determined in 1907, when the first deed was established.

“Do we know if that has been reassessed due to sea level changes?” Lombardi asked. Middletown Solicitor Peter Regan explained the high water mark is measured across a 19-year cycle due to water level changes, so it would be a considerable project to re-evaluate the line.

Terri Flynn, who lives next to the Beach House, urged the town to define beach ownership.

“[As residents], we have heard a lot of measurements. Most recently, it’s the mean of the super, super tide,” said Flynn.

“I think it’s very important to define whose space is whose – and I don’t mind sharing,” he continued. “I think a good balance is really important, so everyone has a good business and residents feel protected.”

Some councilors were apprehensive about moving forward.

“In my mind, are we setting a precedent?” asked Councilor Paul Rodrigues.

“This could open a Pandora’s box,” agreed Councilor Theresa Santos.

As the only beachfront venue in the area, Bardorf said their request to provide alcohol and music on the beach is unique.

“We don’t think we are setting a precedent, because it would have to be against the competitor,” said the lawyer. He added the new owners are not requesting anything that hasn’t been done previously. Bardorf provided photos of the former Atlantic Beach Club, which had food tables and wedding ceremonies on the beach.

Bardorf also assured the council that the 13 parking spots that abut the park, which are intended for public use, will be carefully protected.

“That lot will be used by employees,” said Bardorf. He added many wedding guests will arrive by taxis and shuttles, reducing parking issues.

“The high water mark thing aside, I see a lot of upside to this business. It’s hard not to,” said Lombardi.

Newport Beach House has the capacity to host two simultaneous events, one upstairs and another downstairs, with approximately 400 people.

“Most of our clients are from out of town. They are mostly destination weddings,” Nichole Wardle, Longwood Venues director of sales told Newport This Week.

“I see meals and beverages taxes, hotel taxes, and not just hotels across the street…. We all want to see this business make it. This is the Atlantic Beach Master Plan; this is part of it,” said Lombardi.

To alleviate some concerns, Natalie Volpe, president of Goat Island South Condominium Association, presented her experience with Longwood when they leased Belle Mer in 2006.

“It’s been tremendous,” said Volpe. “We have never had issues.” She explained that Longwood improved the property with a multi-million-dollar renovation, complied with all regulations, and provides consistent access to a professional, well-trained staff.

“It’s been a 10-year relationship that’s completely exceeded our expectations. They are a class act. You are lucky to get them in Middletown,” she said.

Lombardi initially proposed a resolution with many restrictions, notably that ceremonies on the beach must be limited to weddings; music must be appropriate and not amplified; bars may not be set up on the beach; no receptions allowed; no fireworks; ceremonies must be completed within 30 minutes and completed by dusk; and the public may not intermingle with private wedding guests.

But the majority of the council said his amendments were too restrictive and ambiguous.

“Let them run their venue. You are being restrictive before it even happens,” said Council Vice President Robert Kempenaar.

After other councilors voiced similar views, Lombardi shortened the list considerably, to allow alcohol to be served on the beach, with a prohibition of receptions. The motion passed 6-1, with Councilor Antone Viveiros opposed, citing concerns about “unintended consequences.”

In a separate agenda item, councilors unanimously agreed that Newport Beach House could provide “dance and live entertainment” on the beach.

Bardorf said he would take personal responsibility for the venue.

“If there are any complaints, call me directly,” he said.

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