Summer House Will Remain Closed Through At Least July 20

Jason Graziadei •

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The Summer House will remain closed through at least July 20 after a feisty hearing before the Board of Health on Thursday ended with a 3-2 vote to continue the matter to its next meeting.

Tempers flared as Health Department staff and members of the Board of Health sparred with The Summer House owner Danielle deBenedictis and her attorney, Mary-Ellen Manning, over the request for a continuance and the circumstances that led up to Thursday’s hearing.

The Summer House was closed by the town in mid-June just before it was scheduled to open for the season after it failed several inspections by municipal departments. It has remained shuttered since then.

deBenedictis had requested Thursday’s hearing to appeal the Health Department’s decision to issue a notice of non-renewal for the establishment’s food licenses. That notice was issued in late June after an unannounced inspection of the closed property by the Health Department’s chief environmental health officer John Hedden who discovered dog feces in the commercial kitchen.

“The notice was issued to verify that the facility as a whole is capable to handle this restaurant and that the restaurant can be handled in a safe way,” Health Department director Roberto Santamaria told the board on Thursday. “We did not shut them down. We said we’re simply not going to renew the permit, and we need for them to apply as a new restaurant…The applicant never approached us to have a discussion about what’s needed. The truth of it is, what we’re requesting is a plan review document where it goes through item by item with specifications of what will be in the kitchen in order for us to assess that everything in the kitchen is up to modern-day standards. What we’re hearing is that summer house is keeping a 70s charm. The food code has changed 20 times since the 1970s. They need to follow National Sanitation Foundation standards.”

Manning, the attorney for The Summer House, said she was requesting the continuance to allow the property to complete the inspection process with other town departments - including the Building Department and Fire Department. Work has been proceeding since last month, Manning said, and the final item that needs to happen - hooking up the gas tanks - would be completed Thursday. The continuance would allow The Summer House “to proceed in a way that is beneficial to the business.”

“All the known issues are corrected at this time,” Manning said.

But when Santamaria recommended the hearing go forward and members of the Board of Health indicated they were not inclined to grant a continuance, Manning and deBenedictis claimed they had not been provided with sufficient notice of the hearing. They alleged that they were first informed of the correct day and time less than 24 hours in advance.

“I tried to talk to inspector Hedden and was told he wouldn’t talk to me,” deBendictis said. “I was unaware of it (the hearing) until yesterday.”

Besides her attorney, deBenedicitis was joined at the hearing by a large group of people who appeared to be staff from The Summer House, many of whom did not speak English and were told after the hearing had concluded what had happened via a translator. This, Santamaria said, was evidence that deBenedictis had plenty of notice for the hearing.

“We’ve been in discussions with Ms. deBenedictis in person and in writing,” Santamaria said. “The fact she’s here with a coalition of people and her attorney tells me she was properly noticed. We posted this meeting in accordance with the public meeting law, which also counts as notice.”

Manning indicated to the board that she would file a lawsuit if a continuance was not granted over the question of the proper notice of the hearing.

Hedden, the town’s chief environmental health officer, was quiet for most of the hearing but did rise toward the end to offer a few remarks.

“It’s been demonstrated this operator is not responsible enough to run food establishments,’ Hedden said, referencing prior issues such as the “pond of sewage” behind the Bistro and other infractions, as well as more recent problems from this year that included an expansion, plumbing and electrical work with no plan review.

Ultimately, Santamaria relented and reversed his original recommendation and agreed to the proposed continuance. The board, however, was split. Malcolm MacNab and Ann Smith were opposed to continuing the hearing, but they were outvoted by Meri Lepore, Jim Cooper, and Kerry McKenna.

“I’m not happy with what’s happened today,” MacNab said. “I don’t want to do a continuance but we’re being forced into it.”

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