If you go
What: Charleston's Planning Commission meeting, where the group will vote on a moratorium on new bars that say open past midnight
When: 5 p.m. Wednesday
Where: First floor board room, 75 Calhoun St.
Many members of the city's food and beverage industry were outraged by a proposed midnight closing ordinance for new bars in the peninsula's nightlife district.
And they're no happier with the city's revised proposal to limit the early-closing requirement to three years, says John Keener, owner of the Charleston Crab House on Market Street.
The city's Planning Commission Wednesday will vote on the proposed three-year moratorium, and then forward its recommendation to Charleston City Council. Members of the public also will have an opportunity to voice their opinion.
But industry representatives and some City Council members continue to have strong reservations about the plan.
Keener, a member of a group of representatives from the food and beverage industry that has been meeting with city leaders on the ordinance, said, "We as a group and me as an individual are absolutely opposed to a moratorium. It's the same thing as the ordinance."
Keener, who also is a member of the Greater Charleston Restaurant Association's board, said meetings with city leaders haven't been very satisfying for the advisory group. "Most of the meetings we've had with the city have been us listening," he said. "We have given suggestions, but those suggestions have not been implemented by the city."
Some of the strategies the group has suggested to the city are:
Don't allow bars to open if they don't have the required number of parking spaces. Now, he said, the city often grants exceptions to parking-space rules.
Strongly enforce laws prohibiting underage drinking and serving intoxicated customers.
Allow soft closings. For instance, bars could stop serving alcohol at 2 a.m. but remain open until 2:30 a.m. so all customers wouldn't pour out onto the street at the same time.
Focus only on upper King Street because that's where the problems are. Don't bring East Bay and Meeting streets and the Market into the mix.
Some City Council members also are opposed to the revised plan.
"I can't support a three-year moratorium," said City Councilman Aubrey Alexander. "It's just too long and there are too many variables that will change over a three-year period." He said he possibly could support a moratorium that ran for no more than a year.
And, Alexander said, nightlife hot spots tend to be transitory. "Maybe we should let the market work," he said.
Charleston Mayor Joe Riley, Police Chief Greg Mullen and Tim Keane, the city's planning director in May proposed an ordinance creating an "entertainment district overlay zone," which includes the Market area and some areas along East Bay Street, all of King Street and much of Meeting Street. It would have restricted some business activity within the zone, including prohibiting new businesses from serving alcohol after midnight.
The ordinance also would have prohibited many businesses within it from operating between the hours of midnight and 6 a.m., including food stores, gas stations, restaurants, bars and other establishments that sell alcoholic beverages.
Riley said it was needed to prevent the area, especially upper King Street, from becoming a strip of bars. The city wants to encourage diverse commercial and residential development downtown, he said. He thinks that's essential to a healthy and vibrant city.
Reach Diane Knich at 843-937-5491 or on Twitter at @dianeknich.
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