City planning director: Charleston planning to gather citizen feedback, modify alcohol ordinance

The city of Charleston is considering an ordinance that would require new establishments that sell alcohol in the peninsula's entertainment district to close at midnight instead of 2 a.m. Buy this photo

Charleston City Council had to quickly give initial approval to an ordinance that would require new establishments that sell alcohol in the peninsula's entertainment district to close at midnight instead of 2 a.m., says Tim Keane, the city's planning director.

If it hadn't, the city likely would have received many more applications from people hoping to open new businesses that sell alcohol in the Market, or along East Bay, Meeting and King streets, Keane said after the Charleston Metro Chamber of Commerce's Business in Your Backyard meeting Wednesday.

Now, six new businesses are in the pipeline, Keane said, and they will be allowed to stay open until 2 a.m. But any plans or business license applications the city receives after council's first reading of the ordinance on May 27 will be subject to the midnight closing time, he said. "If we had waited six months (before voting on the ordinance), we would have had 10 more places."

Council must vote on the controversial ordinance two more times, but those votes have not yet been scheduled.

The ordinance also would prohibit many businesses within the new district from operating between the hours of midnight and 6 a.m., including food stores, gas stations, restaurants, bars and other establishments that sell alcohol. It would not apply to eating and drinking facilities within establishments that have more than 20 living or sleeping units.

Reid Davis, a commercial real estate agent with Lee & Associates, said at the Chamber meeting that business owners need to communicate their concerns about the ordinance to city leaders. If they don't, the value of their property or the ways in which they use it could be harmed.

Keane said the city is listening to residents, and it has received a tremendous amount of feedback.

The city plans to continue to gather feedback in an organized way before a public hearing at the city's August Planning Commission meeting, he said. The date for that meeting has not yet been set.

Keane said he now is pulling together a committee of representatives from the food and beverage industry to advise city leaders on ordinance revisions. "I'm pretty confident that what goes back to City Council (for the final vote on the ordinance) will be different than what we have now."

The city also will hold a public meeting on the ordinance before the public hearing. And it will hold smaller public meetings for members of the food and beverage community. None of those meetings have been scheduled.

The city has no problems with bars, Keane said, but added it needs to be careful about concentration.

The city has a character it must protect. Some people have suggested closing a portion of upper King Street to cars, and allowing late-night revelers to wander freely in the street. That's not consistent with Charleston's style, he said. "That is never going to happen."

Reach Diane Knich at 843-937-5491 or on Twitter at @dianeknich.

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