By Ashley Barker
Published June 6, 2014
A zoning ordinance that would require some new businesses in downtown Charleston to close at midnight is still under consideration by Charleston City Council.
Many bar and restaurant owners were relieved Thursday night when WCBD-TV News 2 reported that the ordinance was on hold. But a city spokeswoman and a city councilwoman said the ordinance is still pending on a normal time frame for passage of laws in the city of Charleston.
“I voted to give it a first reading as a courtesy to the mayor and the police chief. If we would have deferred it, there would have been potentially a rush on new licenses for bars.”
The proposed amendment to close new bars, restaurants, gas stations and grocery stores at midnight on parts of King and Meeting streets, as well as the area of Market and East Bay streets, received a first reading vote in late May. Councilman Dean C. Riegel was the lone dissenting vote before it was sent to the Planning Commission.
Giving an ordinance a first reading gives council members a chance to examine an issue and get input from those who would be affected by the law, District 12 Councilwoman Kathleen Wilson said.
She said the ordinance — introduced by Mayor Joe Riley, planning director Tim Keane and Police Chief Greg Mullen — caught her off guard.
“I voted to give it a first reading as a courtesy to the mayor and the police chief,” Wilson said. “If we would have deferred it, there would have been potentially a rush on new licenses for bars.”
By approving the ordinance on first reading, Wilson said council members have given themselves some breathing room.
“This is where you’re going to see massive negotiations take place,” she said. “We can take it now and really debate it.”
Wilson is chairwoman of the city’s Public Safety Committee and wonders whether the ordinance needs to be funneled through her committee as well before the next reading.
“There are great public safety issues with this, land use issues, livability issues and economic issues. Whether it comes through my committee or not, I’m going to be vocal,” she said, adding that she would not vote to approve the ordinance again without changes being made to it.
“I was disappointed the food and beverage industry was not consulted prior to it coming up. We had promised them that we would consult them before further laws were passed,” she said. “I have some real heartburn giving them this first reading.”
Wilson said there is no truth to a rumor that a recent fight on King Street, which ended in the death of 27-year-old Clint Seymour, was the reason for the proposed ordinance. Channel 2’s story seemed to link Seymour’s death and the proposed change to the law.
“I think it’s indicative of what might be going on down on King Street, but there are numerous issues going on,” she said. “It’s a much more complicated item.”
City spokeswoman Barbara Vaughn said the zoning ordinance is still pending.
“It can’t be on hold until they go to a council meeting and ask for it to be on hold,” Vaughn said.
Wilson said council has up to a year to work on any final ordinance that is passed.
“I don’t think Planning Commission is going to be in a hurry to move on it. I don’t know what their intent is though,” she said. “It’s not going to come up (in the City Council meeting) in June.”
Reach staff writer Ashley Barker at 843-849-3144 or @AshleyNBarker on Twitter.