A Seekonk businessman accused the town government on Wednesday of denying he and his partner a business license because they are gay. The town's building commissioner/zoning enforcement officer says the denial has nothing to do with discrimination. What the two men want to do, she said, is not allowed by town law.
Robert Gaudette and William Adams purchased the property at 15 Fall River Ave. in 2005. They began living there and soon started using the site to sell antiques, as had been done with the property in the past. But they did not sell the items in-person. When the men decided a few years later they wanted to open the place as a regular shop, they were told to obtain a business license because the antique shop had not been operating for at least two years.
Mary McNeil, Seekonk's, building commissioner/zoning enforcement officer, denied the license request because the property is zoned residential. The couple appealed her decision to the Zoning Board of Appeals. Although the board voted 3-2 last week on Monday in their favor, the appeal was denied because four votes are needed for a ZBA decision to pass.
The next day, Adams came to Town Hall acting in what McNeil described as an "agitated manner." Selectman Gary Sagar, who was there for an unrelated reason, had Adams escorted from the building. Adams defended his actions at the Board of Selectmen meeting on Wednesday.
"I did say she's nothing more than a homophobic little witch, and she said 'yep,'" Adams said.
McNeil told Attleboro-Seekonk Patch on Friday that this is not what he said.
"He used the 'b,' not the 'w,' and I didn't say 'yep'" said McNeil, adding that her denial had nothing to do with Adams and Gaudette being gay.
In a lengthy address to the selectmen, Adams said he and his partner's inability to get a license was a case of "discrimination." He said he had contacted GLAAD and various media outlets regarding the allegation.
Board Vice Chair Bob McLintock told Adams that the discrimination was in his mind, but did not exist.
"It is up to you as the businessperson to meet the requirements of the community that you're in, whether it be Seekonk or any other one," McLintock said.
Selectman Sagar told Adams he had treated the employees in the building department poorly on Tuesday and he should apologize. Sagar added that several other town employees said they had been treated in similar fashion by Adams in the past.
"Your conduct is not very well-received in here," Sagar said. "And perhaps if you want to promote your cause, you might be better off served to send a representative, someone who might be able to keep their calm."
The ZBA's decision can be challenged in state court. A request for the town to rezone the property as commercial could also be made (although that might be a tough hurdle to climb). Gaudette said on Wednesday that he and Adams plan to bring the issue before a judge, but he told the board the effort might not help save the business.
"To be honest with you, that's probably going to take about six months and we may not be able to maintain the property," Gaudette said. "It’s so expensive to live there without the income from the store that we had planned to put there all along."