City Council considering proposal to close some businesses at midnight

By Ashley Barker
abarker@scbiznews.com
Published May 28, 2014

Charleston City Council has approved the first reading of an ordinance that would limit the hours of operation for many new businesses on the peninsula.

Charleston Mayor Joe Riley, Police Chief Greg Mullen and Planning Director Tim Keane proposed a zoning amendment during Tuesday night’s City Council meeting that would require new bars, restaurants, grocery stores and gas stations to close at midnight, instead of 2 a.m. It passed the first reading by a vote of 12-1; Councilman Dean C. Riegel voted against it.

Charleston City Council passed the first reading of a zoning amendment that would require new bars, restaurants, grocery stores and gas stations to close at midnight. (Photo/File)
Charleston City Council passed the first reading of a zoning amendment that would require new bars, restaurants, grocery stores and gas stations to close at midnight. (Photo/File)
The Entertainment District Overlay Zone would encompass the Market and East Bay streets area; King Street from Broad Street north to Poplar Street; and Meeting Street from Broad to Cooper Street. It would not apply to “eating or drinking places housed within an accommodations establishment that has more than 20 living or sleeping units,” such as a hotel bar or restaurant.

Last week, Riley, Mullen and Keane sent a memo to City Council (.pdf, page 84) explaining their support for the proposed zone.

“We believe we are close to a tipping point in terms of the late-night and early morning bar-related activity and challenges in our city,” the memo said. “The good news is that Charleston is a safe city and that the peninsula has a wonderful collection of restaurants and bars — the combination of that and the scale of the city have increasingly made it an attractive place to eat and drink. Too much of anything can be harmful, and we think it is important to do everything we can to make sure we have moderated this level of activity to a degree that is reasonable for all concerned — those who live and work in the peninsula as well as those who visit.”

Greater Charleston Restaurant Association Director Kathy Britzius attended the meeting and said many businesses in the area are concerned about the financial damage the ordinance could cause.

“We’re upset about it right now,” Britzius said. “We have hopes that there’s some way we can come to some sort of an understanding. It would have a tremendous impact on our businesses.”

The nonprofit organization is an advocate for its member restaurants and hosts events such as Charleston Restaurant Week, Taste of Charleston and the Lowcountry Oyster Festival.

“We’ve got a lot of business, and we’re doing really well right now. When you consider what is at stake here, we have a lot of concerns,” Britzius said.

The proposed ordinance will be sent to the Planning Commission for public hearings. The commission will then make a recommendation to City Council, which would have to vote to approve the ordinance twice more before it could be ratified.

Reach staff writer Ashley Barker at 843-849-3144 or @AshleyNBarker on Twitter.

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