As Ben Moise recently told The Post and Courier, recalling why his 1976 plan to open a State Street restaurant with an expansive patio fizzled out, outdoor seating wasn’t until recently considered a desirable restaurant amenity.
“Three things militated against outdoor dining,” said Moise, who developed his restaurant idea soon after South Carolina legalized plein air service. “Bugs, heat and humidity, and neighborhood associations who were simply against everything.”
While none of the above has gone away, outdoor dining is now firmly in its stylish stage. Earlier this year, even The Ordinary started offering al fresco tables. Yet city regulations haven’t evolved to match, which is why City Council this month revisited the ordinance that outlaws outdoor dining in Commercial Transitional zones.
“This is not a huge change,” City Planner Jacob Lindsey clarifies. “Our outdoor dining regulations are over 20 years old, and a lot of restaurants weren’t using outdoor dining 20 years ago. It’s a common sense thing.”
Downtown restaurants will not be affected by the update, if approved, since Commercial Transitional zones are located primarily off the peninsula. Additionally, the zones are extremely small, so an updated ordinance is unlikely to radically change suburban restaurant seating arrangements. Diners on Johns Island, James Island and Daniel Island can already ask for an outdoor table at restaurants in commercial zones.
According to Lindsey, no single restaurant has agitated for the new language.
“We just think it’s a smart thing to do,” he says.
Should City Council allow restaurants in Commercial Transitional zones to offer outdoor dining, interested restaurants will have to go through a permitting process. “The first goal here as always is to protect our neighborhoods,” Lindsey says, perhaps thinking of the same associations that Moise had in mind.