PITTSFIELD — The Licensing Board will hold a hearing next week about a recent wedding event at the Proprietor's Lodge that city health officials say violated COVID-19 occupancy limits while attendees defied mask and social distancing rules.
The July 31 event at the Waubeek Road establishment generated concern among neighbors as the pandemic stretched into August. A Board of Health notice dated Aug. 6 claims the Proprietor's Lodge violated four coronavirus workplace safety standards by hosting the event "with attendance over 100 attendees."
"Attendees were not wearing masks and not social distancing. Attendees were also observed creating a dance floor outside," the notice of violation said.
Senior Sanitarian Andy Cambi said he met with the business owner after receiving complaints about the wedding event. Cambi said he was told 120 people attended, exceeding the 100-person limit on outdoor gatherings that was in place at the time. Gov. Charlie Baker has since ordered limit on the size of outdoor gatherings reduced to 50.
Enforcement of the rule stipulating patrons must wear masks when not at their table "was taken lightly" by the Lodge, Cambi said, adding that signage about the mask rule was missing from the business at the time of the wedding.
Owner Eric Taylor said Monday that his business has "all required documentation posted asking guests to wear masks at all times unless they're sitting down at their table." Manager Candace Lyon said employees did their best to enforce the mask rule but allowed that "people took their masks off when they were with their families"
The city also said patrons were not properly socially distancing and cited the Lodge for allowing entertainment at the wedding.
A DJ provided music at the event, where Lyon said there "was six to ten feet of separation between every table, and there was no dance floor."
Taylor said he had interpreted the then-current COVID-19 regulations as to allow 100 people outdoors and another 25 people indoors, and learned after the event that staff were supposed to be factored into the headcount, calling that "unclear" at the time.
The business takes COVID-19 seriously, said Taylor, who still does not believe he ran afoul of the governor's orders.
"We still feel that we were within the guidelines," said Taylor on Monday. "We felt that we were in compliance. We were told later that we weren't. The way we read it was that we were allowed to have 100 outside and 25 inside, in two different spaces."
The business developed a plan for moving forward in conjunction with the city, and Taylor said the Proprietor's Lodge will continue to hold events in line with the present regulations that cap the size of outdoor gatherings at 50 people.
"We're still going to have events," he said, adding that the city requested 2 weeks notice before events, but for events without that sort of lead-time, such as funerals, he will let the city know about them a couple of days in advance.
A copy of the violations reported by Cambi was received by Thomas Campoli, chairman of the local Licensing Board. A "show cause" hearing is scheduled for the board's Monday, Aug. 24 meeting, when the parties involved will have the chance to weigh in, he said.
After the hearing, the Licensing Board could choose to sanction the Lodge if it concludes there was indeed one or more violations, said Campoli, who withheld judgement about what he referred to as the allegations contained in the Board of Health's notice. Sanctions, in general, could range from modifying, suspending or revoking the businesses' liquor license.
"I'm not prejudging anything in this situation, but it's clear that there should be a hearing on this with participation from the health department and the licensee," said Campoli.
Ward 7 City Councilor Anthony Maffuccio said he's had "nothing but complaints" from constituents about the Proprietor's Lodge since it reopened in the wake of the coronavirus shutdowns.
Complaints were made about noise from loud music and cars, and Jim McGrath, Pittsfield's harbormaster, has notified the business that it cannot use a dock on its property, according to Maffuccio.
"They can't just be slapped on the hand by the Licensing Board," he said, "penalties have to be made."
Amanda Burke can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, on Twitter @amandaburkec and 413-496-6296.