Alcohol is part of proposal for cafes

City Councilman Kurt Taylor, outside Evo Pizza on Wednesday, is promoting a proposal for sidewalk dining in North Charleston, one that would include serving alcohol but only during restricted hours.

A North Charleston city councilman who supports cafe-style sidewalk dining, with alcoholic beverage service, said he has a solution that he hopes will make it acceptable to locals and drinking opponents.

Councilman Kurt Taylor wants to allow the option for restaurants in the Olde Village business district, by Park Circle and East Montague Avenue.

Some residents have raised opposition, saying the district is too close to their churches, neighborhoods and North Charleston High School.

On Wednesday, Taylor presented a pilot proposal that would allow sidewalk dining in the area from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m., but with alcohol service only between the hours of 3 and 11 p.m. The time frame covers most dinner crowds and part of afternoon TV football game schedules, but not too late into the night.

Restrictions would occur during home football games at the high school, and during other events, such as when the area is blocked off for street events or parades.

As many as seven restaurants could take part, and there also would be insurance requirements and the need to make sure pedestrian flow isn't interrupted.

"It's not about outside bars, it's about outside dining," said Taylor, whose district includes areas around Park Circle.

The proposal, which passed a city subcommittee vote Wednesday night, is considered a pilot program to see how well outside cafe dining can work in an area known for its restaurants and neighborhood flair.

At present, sidewalk dining on city rights of way in North Charleston is not strictly prohibited under the city code, but it is not regulated either.

Mayor Keith Summey, who lost a sister and a brother-in-law to a drunken driver, said he was supporting the proposal, in part to help the business area grow as a family destination. He favored cafes as a means of creating an ambiance "that helps draw people to it."

Summey's family owns a restaurant in the area but may not be able to take advantage of any cafe change, he said, because of the tight geography outside the front door.

Voting against the plan was City Councilman Michael Brown, who said he didn't want to "create an ambiance" based on alcohol, and because of the proximity of the high school. The effort has several layers of city government to go through before it would be adopted.

Business groups, merchants and some neighborhood groups have backed the idea, saying a cafe offering will boost visitation.

Scott Cloud, owner of the Barbecue Joint, said he'd welcome outside dining because it would give him extra tables on the city sidewalks, including during times of good weather.

The congregation of the nearby Cooper River Baptist Church remains opposed to the alcohol sales. Coley Snowden, deacon chairman, did not attend the meeting but said members would probably attend future meetings.