Upper King Street’s burgeoning bar scene is inching too close to home for many residents in the adjacent neighborhoods of Cannonborough-Elliotborough.
Once plagued by crime and dilapidation, the corridor is now such a desirable area for new businesses that Charleston City Council has proposed an ordinance to keep the residential district from being overrun by nightlife.
At its meeting today, council is scheduled to vote on the ordinance that creates a “general business late night overlay zone” for the area west of King from Morris Street to the Crosstown.
If passed, all new bars, restaurants, food markets and gas stations in the corridor would have to close by 11 p.m.
Existing businesses in the area, including those that applied for business licenses before council began discussing the issue in June, won’t have to change their hours.
With its growing population of young people and its proximity to upper King, Cannonborough-Elliotborough has recently drawn an unprecedented level of interest from business owners who want to open bars in the area, said Tim Keane, city planning director.
The overlay zone was created to prevent the mostly residential area from becoming an extension of Upper King, he said.
“We could have had at least a dozen more (bars) had we not moved forward with this. If we acted too slowly, we could have lost the opportunity to manage this thing,” Keane said.
The boroughs currently have two late-night bars: Cutty’s on Bogard Street and The Warehouse on St. Philip Street. Other bars and restaurants in the area already close by midnight, but the new law would not restrict them from extending their hours in the future.
A beer garden planned for the corner of Spring and Coming streets will be the last late-night bar allowed in the area.
Patrick Panella, owner of Bin 152, plans to open a bistro, Chez Nous, on 6 Payne Court by the end of the year. Though the overlay zone doesn’t affect his business hours, Panella is worried that pushing all late night bars to King is going to create an atmosphere akin to New Orleans’ Bourbon Street.
“I don’t really think the ordinance is solving the problem that everyone wants it to solve,” Panella said. “The issue is not late night business owners, it’s how to deal with the kids once bars close on Upper King Street.”
Councilman Aubry Alexander said that’s an entirely different issue of public drunkenness, which the city is tackling by adding more patrol officers to the area.
“Whether they’re residents of the neighborhood or college students who are of age, they’re passing through the area in a drunken condition, which begs the question of enforcement,” Alexander said.
Though the zoning overlay may not be a blanket solution to the neighborhood’s woes, many feel that slowing the growth of late-night businesses in the residential area is a move in the right direction.
“The residents of our neighborhood are very supportive of restaurants, bars and business, and that’s what makes our neighborhood great,” said Tim Muller, president of the Elliotborough-Cannonborough Neighborhood Association. “But I think that asking bars to close two or three hours earlier is kind of a concession of being in a residential area, and I think that’s completely appropriate.”
Reach Abigail Darlington at 937-5906, follow her on Twitter @A_Big_Gail