The city's Planning Commission on Wednesday balked at a proposed plan for a three-year moratorium on new bars that can stay open past midnight in the peninsula's entertainment district, and instead will recommend that City Council approve a one-year break.
Charleston Mayor Joe Riley, Police Chief Greg Mullen and Tim Keane, the city's planning director, had asked the commission to approve the three-year plan to give the city time to develop a solid, inclusive plan to better manage the nightlife district on the peninsula. The concentration of bars in that area was growing too quickly, they said, and they were concerned that would be harmful to public safety and business diversity.
If you go
If you go
What: Next public hearing on midnight bar closings
When: 5 p.m., Sept. 23
Where: Charleston City Hall, 80 Broad St.
But commission members voted 5-4 to approve only a one-year moratorium.
"I think three years is absolutely insane," said Sunday Lempesis, who along with Angie Johnson, William Gordon Geer and Elise Davis-McFarland voted against a moratorium of any length.
But Francis McCann said he thought some kind of moratorium was necessary to protect residential neighborhoods. "The neighborhoods are the most important thing we have in our city," he said. Susan Legare, Barbara Ellison, Charles Karesh and Valerie Perry also supported the one-year plan.
The nine-member Planning Commission is a group of citizens appointed by the mayor and City Council to serve as an advisory group on planning-related issues. Its recommendation will be passed on to City Council, which will make the final decision on the moratorium.
Many of about 30 people who spoke during a public comment session at the meeting were neighborhood residents supporting a moratorium on new late-night drinking establishments in the Market area, on parts of Meeting and East Bay streets, and on King Street. That was in stark contrast to a public meeting last month, where many members of the city's food and beverage community spoke out against the plan, largely because they thought it was unfair to new businesses.
Elliotborough neighborhood resident Claire Xidis said she supports a moratorium because the fallout from bars on upper King Street is getting out of control. One recent weekend morning, she said, "I was dodging vomit with a stroller."
Tim Muller, from the Peninsular Neighborhood Consortium, said his group supports the moratorium. The consortium represents eight neighborhoods, he said.
But food and beverage industry representatives also spoke out against the plan Wednesday.
Elliott Smith, who represents BACE, a group that represents 25 local businesses that were opposed to the original version of the ordinance, said he thinks the moratorium is the wrong way to go. "A moratorium is a tool to be used when there's hard evidence of a public emergency." But there is no such emergency, he said. "The city should have a study committee prior to these measures."
Riley, Mullen and Keane in May proposed an ordinance creating an "entertainment district overlay zone," which would have restricted some business activity within the zone, including prohibiting new businesses from serving alcohol after midnight. It also would have prohibited many businesses 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.
The revised moratorium plan would apply only to businesses that allow "on-premise consumption of beer, wine or alcohol." It would not apply to hotels with 20 or more rooms that have bars.
At the start of the meeting, Riley said the he strongly disagrees with people who have said the city should back out and leave the situation to market forces. That simply doesn't work, he said. "It's a growth-management issue," and the city needs to actively address it, as it does other growth-management issues.
It would be unfortunate if King Street turned into a place where people only went to drink, he said. "What you want is a street that is lively at 11 p.m. and 11 a.m.," Riley said. Large crowds of intoxicated people "create an atmosphere that's not Charleston."
Arthur Lawrence, president of the Westside Neighborhood Association, said the biggest problems in his neighborhood north of the Crosstown are traffic and parking. "The neighborhood is suffering" because there now are too many bars in it, he said. "It used to be drugstore and corner store, but now it's bar and restaurant."
Chris Dimattia, owner of the Recovery Room on upper King Street, said one of his reasons for being opposed to the moratorium is that it just won't work. "People will just go wait in line at bars that are open until 2 a.m."
Reach Diane Knich at 843-937-5491 or on Twitter at @dianeknich.