The nexus between noise and commercial entertainment venues such as bars, nightclubs, and restaurants
is licensing. Generating sound above ambient (background) levels at a commercial establishment requires
an entertainment license from the city. A liquor license is not a permit for amplified sound, which is issued
and must be periodically renewed by the Providence Board of Licenses.
The Providence Home Rule Charter, which functions as a municipal constitution, establishes a Board of Licenses (Article XI, 1102) with “power and duties relating to licenses as may be prescribed by law or ordinance.”
In section (b)(1), the Charter grants the License Board the power to require an “inspection, investigation and report to be made by [the police] department or by any other officer, department or agency of the city.”
More significantly, section (b)(3) of the Charter grants the Board the power (subject to state law) to “suspend, annul, rescind, cancel or revoke any license issued by the board of licenses for any reason which the board may deem to be in the public interest.”
(Jump to noise restrictions as a condition of entertainment licenses)
Chapter 14 — Licenses
ARTICLE I. — IN GENERAL
Sec. 14-1. — Closing hours; license fees, regulations for commercial establishments.
(a) Generally. No shops, stores, or other places of trade or entertainment shall be kept open between 1:00 a.m. and 4:00 a.m., except as hereinafter provided.
(b) Licensing exceptions. Licensed taverns, drugstores, hotels, motels, gasoline stations, self-service laundries, restaurants, and such other businesses as may be approved by the [Board] of Licenses, may keep open between the hours of 1:00 a.m. and 4:00 a.m., provided that a license therefor has been obtained from the [Board] of Licenses, and further provided that the operation of said businesses between said hours shall not cause or create a nuisance, or disturb or cause the disturbance of the peace and quiet of the neighborhood in which said businesses are located.
(d) Rules, regulations applicable. The [Board] of Licenses may establish rules and regulations governing nighttime operations of businesses licensed by it as aforesaid in order to avoid nuisances and disturbances of the peace.
(e) Suspension, revocation of license. The [Board] of Licenses may for good cause, and after reasonable notice and opportunity to be heard, suspend or revoke any license issued by it as aforesaid.
(f) Responsibility for violation. Every keeper of any shop, store or place of trade or entertainment, which shall be opened, or in which any article shall be sold, and every person opening any shop, store or place of trade or entertainment or selling any article contrary to the provisions of this section, shall be deemed guilty of a violation of this section.
Sec. 14-193. — License required.
No person, corporation or entity shall publicly or for pay, or for any profit or advantage, exhibit, promote, take part in, conduct, engage in or give any “entertainment event” without an entertainment license from the Board of Licenses.
Sec. 14-195. — Entertainment license – Application, and hearing required.
(a) No entertainment license shall be granted by the Board of Licenses without first receiving an application therefor by the person, corporation, or entity seeking the license, and without first holding a hearing on such application. The license application for a new entertainment license shall be submitted to the Board of Licenses at least seven (7) days prior to the first time appointed for the initial exhibition of the performance, show or exhibition. In determining the seven-day period herein set forth, Saturdays, Sundays and legal holidays shall not be counted.
(d) Any material misrepresentation of information on an entertainment license application shall cause the rescission of an entertainment license issued in connection with such application.
Sec. 14-196. – Entertainment license conditions.
The Board of Licenses, pursuant to Title 5, Chapter 22, of the General Laws of Rhode Island, may place reasonable conditions on the issuance of an entertainment license having due regard for the public convenience, welfare, and safety of its residents.
(1) Entertainment description. Any application for an entertainment license shall identify the specific types and nature of entertainment intended, as well as specifically delineating and defining through an attached plan, the location of the proposed entertainment. The approval of an entertainment license shall allow for those specific types of entertainment for which an application has been completed, and no other.
(2) Hours of entertainment. If an entertainment license is granted to the holder of a victualing license or alcoholic beverage license, the license granted hereunder shall not permit such entertainment event to extend beyond the authorized serving time of such victualing or alcoholic beverage license. In all other instances where an entertainment license is issued, the hours of entertainment to be held shall be as determined by the Board of Licenses, having due regard for the public convenience, welfare, health and safety.
(3) Noise. The Board of Licenses may specifically require the use of sound-buffering and sound-modification equipment, including audio speakers with short throw symmetrical coverage unidirectional patterns and baffling to contain and mitigate the dispersion of amplified sound as a condition to the issuance or renewal of an entertainment license. Entertainment license holders shall comply with the regulations prescribed in Chapter 16, Article III of the Code of Ordinances entitled “Noise Control,” including, but not limited to, the sound limits set forth in subsection 16-93 (3), and the use of amplified sound as set forth in section 16-105; and
(4) Conditions. The following conditions shall apply to entertainment licenses for establishments licensed to sell alcohol for consumption on the premises:
c. The entertainment venue shall implement a “code of conduct” for its employees and patrons, and submit a copy of such to the Board of Licenses; and
d. Any other such conditions the Board of Licenses deems necessary for the public convenience, welfare, health, and safety. [emphasis added]
(6) Operation in accordance with law. Full compliance with all federal and state laws, municipal ordinances, and all applicable rules and regulations shall be an express condition of every entertainment license issued by the Board of Licenses. It is the responsibility of the license applicant to determine whether the applicant’s intended use of the premises is permissible under the zoning ordinance. In no event shall an entertainment license permit the occurrence of any nonconforming use.
Sec. 14-199. – License expiration.
Any entertainment license issued in accordance with the provisions of this division shall expire on the last day of the month, and shall be renewed by the licensee subject to a completed application and the payment of the appropriate fee as established by ordinance.
Rhode Island State Law
Title 3 — Alcoholic Beverages
Chapter 5 — Licenses Generally
R.I. Gen. Laws § 3-5-23: Revocation of license for criminal offenses or disorderly conditions
(b) If any licensed person permits the house or place where he or she is licensed to sell beverages under the provisions of this title to become disorderly as to annoy and disturb the persons inhabiting or residing in the neighborhood, … or permits any of the laws of this state to be violated in the neighborhood, in addition to any punishment or penalties that may be prescribed by statute for that offense, he or she may be summoned before the board, body, or official that issued his or her license and before the department, when he or she and the witnesses for and against him or her may be heard. If it appears to the satisfaction of the board, body, or official hearing the charges that the licensee has violated any of the provisions of this title or has permitted any of the things listed in this section, then the board, body, or official may suspend or revoke the license or enter another order.
Chapter 7 — Retail Licenses
R.I. Gen. Laws § 3-7-16.6: Class N nightclub license.
(g) Any establishment that holds a Class N nightclub license must:
(1) Comply with local ordinances governing noise levels