PEABODY — The Stonewood Tavern and its owner Sal Palumbo took some hard knocks from the City Council last night, in what was to be a hearing over allowing the Lynnfield Street establishment to expand its entertainment.
But that part of the meeting was over before it started, as Ward Councilor Barry Osborne, speaking on Palumbo’s behalf, asked successfully that the businessman be allowed to withdraw his application “without prejudice,” meaning he can bring it back later. Osborne told colleagues that the owner realized his mistakes in abandoning the restaurant’s initial concept — it was to feature subdued jazz trios — and creating what some residents charge is a nightclub with raucous music.
“I have met several times with the owner,” Osborne said. “I am glad to say he has listened.” With Palumbo silently looking on from the back of the auditorium, the councilor continued, “I think he realizes the mistake he made. I don’t like the way it went. No one likes the way it went. ... He understands, and there is no doubt that he lost the goodwill of the council and the neighbors, and he wants to get it back.”
Osborne explained that Palumbo has made changes at the restaurant to lessen the noise, while retaining more modest hopes for added entertainment, including a function room that might require a disc jockey at times and parties for kids. To make this happen, the councilor hopes to discuss what’s possible with the city solicitor.
“I want it to be successful,” Osborne said of the restaurant, “but not at the expense of the neighbors.”
The council discussed the possibility of asking Palumbo to speak for himself but eventually decided that legal questions would arise if the meeting began to seem like a public hearing, with statements potentially used against the city in court. Instead, some gave vent to questions regarding whether Palumbo had violated city ordinances in expanding the establishment, adding the Amber Room.
“Everything was a three-person jazz band, and then it morphed into something,” said member Barry Sinewitz. “Your special permit didn’t have anything to do with a nightclub.” He suggested that Palumbo needed to come back to the council to have the addition approved. “Who told you to build it?”
“They ran amok,” said member Dave Gamache of the management. “Sal is a good businessman,” he added, suggesting that he wasn’t paying enough attention.
“It’s a clear case of it’s easier to ask forgiveness than permission,” said Councilor Anne Manning-Martin. “You went wild over there. Wild.” She recalled the initial permitting process, noting, “One person came up to me and said, ‘He’s going to put in a nightclub. You wait.’ And you put in a nightclub, and we waited.”
At the same time, Manning-Martin asked for a review from the Licensing Board to see if Stonewood, which she said never proposed having a bar, is in violation by having two.
Despite the harsh judgments, even Manning-Martin saw hope in reform, though she cautioned that going forward, Palumbo needed to be “kept on a short leash.” She added, “I’m willing to work with you because what you told us you were going to have in there is good.” In the beginning, the place was beautiful, and it made the councilors proud to have approved it, she said.
Speaking to reporters after the meeting, Palumbo said, “I would like to come back to the board.” Asked if he had indeed turned the place into a nightclub, he said, “What is considered a nightclub? Did we have some entertainment to keep people happy? Yes we did.”