It's last call for that midnight bar-closing ordinance.
The city of Charleston is going to withdraw its plan to create an "entertainment overlay district" that would force new bars to close at 12 a.m. Next month, the city will ask the Planning Commission to instead consider a temporary moratorium on new bar business licenses.
Basically, the people - and the city council - spoke, and the administration listened.
Tim Keane, director of planning, preservation and sustainability for the city, says Charleston officials have been meeting with food and beverage industry folks and listening to the people protesting the overlay district at various public meetings.
Many people have argued that it is inherently unfair to subject similar businesses to vastly difference laws. And they have a good point.
Although there is no pure consensus on what needs to be done about the proliferation of late-night businesses downtown, Keane says a moratorium would allow the city to briefly pump the brakes and think about long-term solutions.
"We had talked about that (the moratorium) before but went with the overlay, and that was probably a mistake," Keane says.
That became apparent quickly.
Although the city council approved the ordinance 12-1 (with only Councilman Dean Riegel opposed), it was just a week later that other council members woke up with a bad hangover. All of a sudden, there was a real chance the ordinance couldn't get enough support for final approval.
Now the idea is just dead.
No Bourbon Street
The "entertainment district overlay zone" focused on the City Market, parts of East Bay and Meeting, and all of King Street.
City officials said Charleston had reached a tipping point, on upper King in particular, and needed to do something to keep the peninsula from turning into one big Bourbon Street.
That might have been a mild stretch, but clearly there are issues to address in terms of livability and city planning.
The problem with the overlay zone was fairness.
Real estate folks said if property use was restricted, it could hurt the peninsula commercial market. But more than anything, Councilwoman Kathleen Wilson - who initially supported the move - said it was unfair to businesses. She also thought it was pretty shoddy for the city to ask local business owners to help revitalize upper King, then try to rein them in for doing too good a job.
Keane believes the moratorium certainly will be better received by the food and beverage industry than the midnight closing time, but realizes support won't be unanimous.
"It's definitely what people said they would prefer," Keane says.
Of course, you aren't going to find complete consensus on anything. Councilman Bill Moody supports this change of direction. He says the overlay district was the city's long-term approach to what he believes is a short-term problem.
Moody is pretty sure council would have killed this measure had it come up for final approval. It just didn't make sense. If some bars were forced to close at midnight, Moody notes, the drinkers would just mosey on down to the next bar that stayed open until 2 a.m.
City officials have watched as upper King has become the hot new nightspot with bars on nearly every block. Now, those nightspots are starting to get pretty close to some residential areas. Some city council members will tell you that's the trade-off for living in an urban setting. But the city is just doing its job by watching out for those folks.
Moody says he doesn't expect upper King to turn to salt. It's not that bad.
"I think ultimately upper King is going to look more like Rodeo Drive than Bourbon Street," Moody says.
Here's what's going to happen:
The Planning Commission meets Aug. 20, and a lot of bar and restaurant folks are expected to show up and voice their opposition to the overlay district.
At that time, if not before, the city is going to withdraw the ordinance from consideration - which means those folks won't have to fight.
The city will then ask the Planning Commission to consider a temporary moratorium on new bar licenses. The panel will make a recommendation to city council.
Basically, the moratorium could be on the city council agenda at one of its September meetings.
That should end one of the most contentious issues the city has faced in some time.
As Riegel noted, this whole thing could have been avoided had the city run the plan past food and beverage businesses before uncorking it.
The good news here is that, in the end, moderation prevailed - if not on upper King, at least at City Hall.
Reach Brian Hicks at firstname.lastname@example.org
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