Late-night proposal off to good start Bar owner, resident satisfied as panel presents plan to balance needs of both

The city’s Late Night Activity Review Committee recommends a nonprofit group comprised of city and business leaders manage the city’s bar scene. Grace Beahm/Staff

Christopher DiMattia, owner of the Recovery Room Tavern on upper King Street, wants to make sure new rules for late-night activity are fair to his business.

And Marion Simpson, who lives in the peninsula’s French Quarter, wants the quality of life in her neighborhood, as well as her property investment, to be preserved. She doesn’t want it to become like the rowdy French Quarter in New Orleans.

Both of them said they were satisfied with the conceptual recommendations made by the city’s 21-member Late Night Activity Review Committee, which were presented to the public Tuesday at the Charleston Maritime Center. And both of them said they planned to continue to follow the process, to make sure the final ordinance or regulations would benefit the city and be fair to everyone.

DiMattia said many of the committee’s proposals are great. “I just wanted to make sure there weren’t any hare-brained ones.”

A few dozen people attended the meeting.

Charleston in September put in place a one-year moratorium on new establishments that serve alcohol past midnight in the peninsula’s entertainment district while the committee studied the best ways to manage late-night activity.

After months of research and public input, the group has recommended that:

The city and business owners form a nonprofit group to manage late-night activity.

The city create a special zoning requirement for all late-night operations that fall within 500 feet of areas that have residential zoning. The requirement, which would regulate trash collection, noise and parking, would apply citywide. Earlier versions of the plan applied only to the peninsula’s entertainment district, which includes King Street, parts of Meeting and East Bay streets, and the City Market area.

New “people-movement strategies” be developed, such as more private security in parking garages and “soft closings,” where, for instance, bars could stay open an hour later but serve only food and nonalcoholic beverages.

That would prevent all bar patrons from pouring out into the streets at the same time.

The committee will take the public comments from Tuesday’s meeting and use them to refine its recommendations. It then will make a report to City Council in July. That body ultimately must approve a late-night activity ordinance.

The Late Night Activity Review Committee was formed to create a more inclusive strategy to rein in late-night revelers, especially on upper King, than the initial version proposed by Charleston Mayor Joe Riley, Police Chief Greg Mullen and Tim Keane, the city’s planning director.

That plan included an ordinance creating an “entertainment district overlay zone.” It would have restricted some business activity within the zone, including prohibiting new businesses from serving alcohol after midnight. It would have been a permanent measure.

City Councilman Dean Riegel, the only council member to initially vote against that proposal, said he’s thrilled that the committee didn’t recommend continuing the moratorium.

Overall, he said, he’s pleased with what the group has come up with so far. But he’s looking forward to reviewing the more-specific plan that is presented to council. “The devil is in the details.”