WESTERLY —A Misquamicut inn must cease operations and put its tenants and guests out after its business license was revoked on Thursday.
The town's Licensing Board voted 3-1 Thursday morning to revoke the Sea Spray Inn's license after receiving requests to do so from police, fire officials, and the board's lawyer, Dylan Conley. The inn, at 99 Shore Road, has been involved in an appeal of alleged fire code violations since a routine annual inspection in late 2017.
After the board's vote, Westerly Police Capt. Steven Johnson said the police department would inform the owners that they must cease operations. Johnson said the department would give the inn a "reasonable amount of time" to have its guests and full-time residents leave.
During the show cause hearing on Thursday, Micheal Lynch, the lawyer who represents the inn, stressed that it is equipped with a fire protection, suppression and warning system and that his client planned to address the need for a sprinkler in the furnace room within a few days. Lynch said a company would be hired by Sept. 6, and that a plan to deal with the violations could be submitted to the state Fire Marshal's Office within about a week.
The inn is owned by Neptune LLC, whose principal is Deborah Stebenne. She also owns the Sea Shell Motel, which is on Winnapaug Road in Misquamicut. Stebennne runs the two facilities with her husband, Thomas C. Riley, according to town records.
"It's not as if there isn't any fire protection or suppression or warning in place, it is that it is out of date," Lynch said.
Conley asked the board to revoke the inn's license immediately.
As Lynch had stated, Conley said, "the violations have not been completely abated. That constitutes a breach of the conditions under which the license was granted. It will be my request and the request of the enforcement authorities of the town of Westerly, particularly the police department, that this license be suspended until such time as the licensee meets all of the conditions under which the license was issued."
According to Lynch, the alleged violations stem from changes to the state fire code. He also noted that the board approved the inn's current license in December and that the license was issued following an inspection of the property by Misquamicut Fire Chief Todd Findeisen and a member of the state fire marshal's office. The license was issued while the inn's appeal of the violations cited by the state fire marshal's office from the 2017 inspection was pending, Lynch said.
Lynch added that Stebenne and Riley had appealed based on a belief that the proposed work was not necessary. But he said the couple had recently decided to stop fighting the fire marshal's findings because of the cost of the appeal and appearances before the Licensing Board.
The police department had asked the board to revoke the license after receiving a letter from State Fire Marshal Timothy McLaughlin asking for "assistance from the town of Westerly in reducing the risk to the public and the liability to the town by revoking the license to operate a hotel until such time as the property is compliant with the fire code."
Johnson said the police department had "public safety concerns" in light of McLaughlin's letter.
In February 2018, the state Fire Safety Code Board of Appeal and Review gave the inn owners 30 days to develop a plan to address the violations and an additional 150 days to correct them. The board found the inn, which consists of 11 guest rooms, lacks a code-compliant fire alarm system and does not have an approved automatic sprinkler system. The board also cited the inn for failing to install a sprinkler and fire-rated door in the furnace room and failing to install a fire-rated door at the top of a stairwell. When the owners failed to complete the work after the specified 150 days, the fire marshal's office filed misdemeanor criminal charges in district court. Those charges are now pending in Superior Court.
"The fire marshal's office could have shut them down. They didn't because the charges are pending in Superior Court," Lynch told the board.
After the hearing Lynch said he planned to speak with his clients to determine whether to appeal the board's decision to the Town Council.
Board members struggled with what approach to take, saying they were hesitant to interfere with a business owner's livelihood but were also concerned about public safety.
"They had an opportunity and they didn't do it. They failed. They failed their guests, they put them in harm's way," board member Mary E. Belanger said. "I know they are a business. I own a business and my children own a business, so I know how important it is."
The board initially considered a motion to give the owners an additional week before acting on revocation, but the motion failed to receive a second. An initial motion to revoke the license failed by a 2-2 vote. The same motion was considered a second time and approved 3-1 vote. Board members Angela Thoman, Joseph Nigrelli and Belanger voted in favor of the motion. Board member Paul Gencarella Jr. voted against it. Gencarella noted that the owners had only recently decided not to fight the criminal charges.
Board Chairman Michael Cardiff, who owns the The Villa Bed & Breakfast in Misquamicut, recused from the hearing and did not vote.
Lynch said the board's decision was "disappointing. "This is a well-established business and it's not as if there is no fire suppression system. They were challenging some aspects of the fire marshal's decision, from a business perspective. It's unfortunate the board decided to take this action, which could put them out of business and displace residents, some of whom have lived there for years," he said.
Lynch thanked the police department for allowing guests and tenants time to move out.