WESTERLY — The Sea Spray Inn's business license remains revoked after the Licensing Board failed Thursday to issue a stay of its earlier revocation of the license.
Micheal Lynch, the Shore Road inn's lawyer, asked the board for a stay of its Aug. 15 vote to revoke the inn's business license because of fire safety code violations. While the inn has both a fire alarm and fire suppression system, the Office of the State Fire Marshal has cited the facility for failing to update its systems as required by the code.
On Thursday, Lynch said the inn had filed a plan to bring the facility into compliance with the Office of the State Fire Marshal on Aug. 21 but had yet to receive approval or feedback on the plan. The inn's owners, Deborah Stebenne and her husband, Thomas C. Riley, also had a sprinkler installed in the inn's furnace room to resolve one of the violations, and has a contractor lined up to do the remaining work once the plan is approved, Lynch said. The same contractor developed the plan that is under review by the fire marshal's office.
Without the license and the ability to do business, Lynch said his clients face the prospect of never being able to reopen. While the inn serves the tourism industry, Lynch said most of its business comes from long-term tenants, some whom had lived there for as long as 15 years. The tenants, who were forced to leave when the license was revoked, have been out since Aug. 19, he said.
"When you take a look at the big picture, we're asking that a business that has been in operation for all these years be allowed to continue to operate. This is not someone who went in there recently and didn't have any fire protection or fire suppression," Lynch told the board.
The board voted 2-2 on a motion to deny the requested stay during a special meeting in Council Chambers at Town Hall. The move to revoke the license was made at the request of the Westerly Police Department, which had been informed of the fire code violations by the fire marshal's office.
The vote followed a previous motion, which failed due to lack of a second, to grant the stay. William Conley, the board's lawyer, said the board's inability to act would have the effect of preserving its earlier act to revoke the license.
The board considered but did not take Lynch's suggestion that he provide the board with status updates on the state fire marshal's review of the inn's plan, and daily reports from the contractor once work begins, as conditions for issuance of a stay. If the board agreed to grant the stay on condition that reports on the review and work be given, Conley said, the board should first seek input from fire and building officials.
"My concern is if a catastrophic fire event were to occur during that time period, I'd be concerned about the liability exposure for the town," Conley said.
Angela Thomen, a member of the Licensing Board, explained her reason for opposing issuance of a stay. "I feel through granting a stay, with the information we have been given, would put the public in harm's way. I think that us allowing the license again without the general knowledge of anyone who's going to stay there that the fire suppression is not up to code makes the town liable," she said.
Board member Mary Belanger said she would not support issuance of a stay because failure by the inn's owners to comply with the board's conditions or to follow through on the plan would result in "people having to be removed again."
Board members Paul Gencarella Jr. and Joseph M. Nigrelli Jr. voted against the motion to deny the stay. Michael Cardiff, the board's chairman, recused and did not vote. Cardiff owns The Villa Bed & Breakfast in Misquamicut.
After the meeting Lynch said his clients plan to continue pursuing an appeal of the board's action to the Town Council.
"It's disappointing, but the board has a job to do. But for a business that has been a part of this town for years to be precluded from operating after making an offer for strict oversight is disappointing," Lynch said.
A hearing date before the Town Council had not been scheduled as of Thursday.