Crowd supports Inn on Shipyard Park, board agrees it's not a nightclub

Sep 30, 2016

The Inn on Shipyard Park has a capacity of 161 people, and at least that many supporters came to a hearing on Thursday night to defend the 217-year-old institution.

George and Maureen Butler, who live next to the inn, say it is illegally operating as a nightclub. After Building Commissioner Andy Bobola declined to respond to their enforcement request, the couple appealed to the Zoning Board of Appeals.

This isn’t the first time the Butlers have taken issue with the inn. After an upgrade to the inn’s porch was approved, including a widening of the structure, the pair appealed the decision. It is now pending litigation.

On Thursday, the board sided with Bobola, thus allowing the inn to continue with business as usual. But that only happened after approximately two hours of statements, outbursts, more than a few insults and a montage of surveillance videos.

The Old Hammondtown School cafeteria was standing room only as the Butlers played a video featuring footage of the inn taken from their deck and mixed in with various town meetings from recent years that discussed operations at the inn. The video included the sound of music coming from the establishment, people exiting the building and others standing outside.

The Butlers’ attorney, Tom Crotty, said amplified music from the inn has led to decibel readings equal to that of a freight train on his clients’ property.

Although the inn was grandfathered into the zoning bylaws in the late ‘60s, Crotty said, “It’s not the bar it was in 1967.” The bar and entertainment, which he claimed was mostly piano music, once complemented the restaurant. Now, according to Crotty, it has eclipsed it. Using this reasoning, he said the inn is not operating as it was originally intended and so would forfeit its grandfathered status.

“The fact is, years ago, when people moved into the neighborhood. It wasn’t this loud. It was a small bar. It didn’t have the amplified music,” said Crotty. “A fair reading of the evidence is that it’s not protected.”

The crowd did not like any of that with one person yelling “It’s a lie!” and another “Move out of the neighborhood!”

Crotty continued: “Allow the bar to be what it used to be. Allow the restaurant to be what it used to be. Reduce the seating capacity back to what it used to be. Make sure there’s no noise heard outside of the property.”

A Zoning Board member, residents and co-owner Nils Johnson spoke against Crotty’s claims.

Ken Pacheco, who sits on the board, said the capacity has been the same since at least 1971. He also questioned how the Butlers could know that the sound inside was louder now than 1967.

“As far as I know, there were louder bands and a lot more people and lines to get in,” he said. “I would say it’s at least fifty percent quieter than the Mattapoisett Inn (the previous name) used to be.”

Pacheco also noted that all of the complaints to police in the past four years have been from the Butlers, and that wharf dances and Harbor Days at Shipyard are louder than the inn.

Musician Robert Chandler said he’s played at the inn since 1984, and if the decibels the Butlers registered outside the inn were accurate then inside the inn it would be deafening.

“Being inside the building performing is nowhere near the sound of what it’s like standing at a railroad track with a train going by,” he said.

Johnson, who owns the Inn on Shipyard Park with Andrea Perry, challenged everything Crotty said and asserted that the inn is inclusive while the Butlers’ behavior is exclusive.

Crotty said the inn has shifted its focus to entertainment. Johnson said he only has 15 to 16 hours of entertainment a week or “7.125 percent of my allotted entertainment license.” Additionally, he said, “Food sales always outweigh liquor sales, one hundred percent of the time.”

To the request to stop using the rear entrance, which is close to where bands play and has the building’s only handicap accessible ramp, Johnson said: “I’m not going to run an alarm to let everyone know the next person who comes through the door is disabled.”

Johnson also said the historic inn and all of the memories that have happened there, are one of the things that makes Mattapoisett special.

“Defend the porch? Ya. Defend the inn? Ya. Defend Mattapoisett? Absolutely,” Johnson said to a standing ovation.

Johnson's and Perry’s lawyer, Marc Deshaies, also defended the operations in the inn.

“I say from 1967 to the present, it has remained that unified whole,” he said. “Their arguments just don’t pass the straight-faced test.”

While Zoning Board members agreed with a unanimous vote, it may not be the end of the issue. Crotty indicated that they would probably “end up in court.”