Cuzzy's supporters show up for license renewal hearing

Majority of speakers rally around Camden's only late-night establishment
By Susan Mustapich | Jul 10, 2019
Source: File photo Supporters of Cuzzy's Restaurant on Bay View Street showed up during liquor and special amusement permit hearings, speaking in favor of the establishment.

CAMDEN — Cuzzy's, Camden's only late-night restaurant and bar, saw a strong show of support for its contribution to the vitality of the downtown business area during license renewal hearings July 9.

The Select Board, responsible for annual approvals of liquor, food and special amusement licenses, voted unanimously on all of the above for the restaurant/bar. The key point made by board members was that Cuzzy's must comply with local regulations, including Camden's noise ordinance.

The hearings brought out complaints about cigarette smoking, noise and profanity from customers on the deck, and comments about activity after closing time from two nearby neighbors, one next door on Bay View Street and another on Chestnut Street, close to the back of the restaurant.

Select Board Chairman Bob Falciani asked owner Christopher Cousins to speak.

"My main goal is to operate a safe and productive business and keep peace in the neighborhood," Cousins said. "I try to address issues. If I can pinpoint where it's coming from, I can address it."

Cousins admitted to not enforcing the smoking ban on the deck in prior years, but said no smoking is allowed there now. He said he has two security personnel now who oversee the deck, and ensure no one is taking drinks out of the restaurant when going to smoke out on the sidewalk. He said the special amusement permit is needed to have any kind of music, from karaoke to open mic. He said he can't have bands with electric bass guitars or drum sets, just singles, duos or trios with acoustic instruments.

The comments of supporters focused on the benefits to patrons and visitors, and downtown Camden itself, of an establishment with a bar open until 1 a.m., acoustic music sessions, and ping pong and pool. Some spoke about how it is the only place for young people to gather. Others talked about how Camden's downtown has lost some of its vitality because of the closure over the decades of other late-night bars with amplified music and dancing.

All of the supporters expressed sympathy for residents whose sleep is disturbed by the noise, while also saying that noise from a bar, or from visitors walking back to their hotels, is part of the downtown environment.

Police chief Randy Gagne said that while he concurs with the past history of noise complaints described by the next-door neighbor on Bay View, police have not found Cuzzy's in violation of the town's noise ordinance. The noise ordinance, approved in November 2016, prohibits measurable noise exceeding 65 decibels which "persists for five minutes or more" between the hours of 11 p.m. and 7 a.m.

Gagne said the readings the police get do not mean that noise was not over the level at the time a complaint came in, or while that person was waiting for the police to arrive.

Chris Cokinis, a real estate broker born and raised in Camden, who has lived in the area all his life, said the town needed the dollars and spending generated by all of the businesses up for license renewals at the meeting. "We need the town to support the establishments for the draw and the economy," he said. Camden is a destination, and one reason for that he said is the "interesting mix of what the town has to offer."

Joe Cloutier, of Camden said he is a customer of the restaurant and has "never heard very loud, untoward noise" when he has been there. "If they abide by the rules of the town, they should have their license renewed," he said.

Eric Kangas of Camden talked about Cousins' closing down the deck to smoking as of 2019, which he has heard has resulted in the loss of "a lot of patrons." Cousins has put up a lot of "quiet” signs, and hired two bouncers to monitor noise levels, Kangas said. "Every time the police are called, they do a drive-by and test the noise, and my understanding is every time they tested, it has been under," he said.

Heather Fortin, Cuzzy's bartender, countered the idea that the bar remains open or that customers are drinking after state-regulated closing hours. She said after 1:15 a.m. when customers leave, the only people inside while she is closing are the bouncers. She talked about the noise buffers they use every night, including heavy curtains.

Keith May of Lincolnville spoke in support of Cuzzy's. The former longtime owner of Peter Otts restaurant, which was across the street from Cuzzy's, said similar discussions had been going on for a long time, and come up every year with the warm weather, when residents are opening their windows and more people are coming downtown.

Emmett Lalor, a Camden resident, runs a small open mic with acoustic guitars and singers at Cuzzy's. He said it is the last place he and his friends can come to, and the live music brings in tourists late at night. "It would just be horrible if we weren’t allowed to play there anymore," he said.

Jenna Norwood, a new Camden resident, spoke in support of the community and music that Cuzzy's offers. She said she had seen how noise concerns and being asked to quiet down inhibit customers who are having fun there, or even greeting a friend they have not seen for a while.

Kathy Young of Camden grew up on Sea Street, where she could hear music from across the harbor "rocking this town in such a fun fashion." She went away, and when she came back, she wanted to live downtown and moved to Bay View Street ."We need this town to be alive. Bay View Street is alive,"  she said."I can't imagine that it's going to do anything but continue to enhance Camden to celebrate what's happening on Bay View Street."

Erick Anderson of Bay View Collection said he was speaking in favor of Cuzzy's on behalf of Marianne and Stuart Smith. The Smiths own the 16 Bay View hotel near Cuzzy's, Maine Sport, and a multitude of commercial buildings.

During the Select Board discussion, board members spoke in support of granting the licenses. Marc Ratner said he goes to Cuzzy's to hear the music, and that it is important to have music in Camden. He said he was one of the main proponents of the current noise ordinance, which was also reviewed by the Planning Board. Ratner said that legally, the police reports did not give the board any reason to deny the license.

Jenna Lookner said Cuzzy's was Camden's one late-night venue. Taylor Benzi said he agreed with Ratner and Lookner's points, and that he has lived downtown and experienced the convenient access to everything, and the noise. Alison McKellar said she lived in various apartments downtown, and had slept in the bathroom or covered windows with blankets to deal with noise. At the same time, she was a bartender at Peter Otts for a while, and played music after hours when she was cleaning up. She said smoking is a problem, and deserves a community discussion, but she worried about what message the prolonged discussion about Cuzzy's that night would send to the business community. Falciani agreed with approving the license, and referred to the town's noise ordinance with decibel readings, which he said the town must enforce.

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