N. Charleston may OK permits for outside dining, drinking

Matt McIntosh, co-owner of Evo's pizza parlor in the Olde Village, favors outside dining and drinking. 'We have those beautiful sidewalks; they're huge,' he said. 'They can support a lot of people out there.'

With the weather getting nicer, North Charleston Mayor Keith Summey is envisioning crowds flocking to the Olde Village business district near Park Circle. He sees people eating at sidewalk tables, maybe having a drink with their meal.

And though this sort of sidewalk cafe-style eating and drinking isn't permitted now, it could happen sooner rather than later.

City officials are exploring opening the district's public sidewalks for outdoor dining with alcohol service, a first for North Charleston.

The hurdles are many, including balancing the surrounding neighborhood's wishes and the sale of adult beverages, especially after the sun goes down. As many as six or seven restaurants could take part.

There's already sidewalk eating in some spots in the area, but it isn't closely monitored. The change would formally allow for food and alcohol sales, which many restaurants see as a plus because of the money to be made on drinks.

Already there are opponents. A block away, the congregation of the Cooper River Baptist Church is on record against the idea, pointing to the hundreds of teenagers from North Charleston High School who attend classes nearby.

"Our stance as a church family is that we're opposed because of what it could lead this area to," said Todd Sutton, the church's youth minister and chaplain to the high school football team.

The prospect of "sidewalk cafe" dining is being reviewed in a subcommittee overseen by City Councilman Kurt Taylor. As envisioned, businesses would pay a $100 permit fee with numerous requirements to follow, including adequate pedestrian flow.

There would be an 11 p.m. service cutoff time, and amplified music wouldn't be permitted.

The proposed rules also say all alcohol service must be done in conjunction with ordering food, and liquor sales would be suspended during any home North Charleston High sporting events and during street parades and block parties.

Taylor said outdoor dining is a continuation of a practice that's in place all over the globe, and more recently in parts of downtown Charleston. North Charleston shouldn't be left out, he said.

He also said the idea isn't solely about promoting alcohol sales, and could be a prototype for use in other public spaces in the city.

Some of the businesses that serve food in the area are giving the idea mixed reviews. Sue Thigpen, owner of Johnny's Old Village Grill, said she tried outdoor dining a few years ago but it led to mischief and vandalism at the tables by teenagers, so she dropped the service.

"It wasn't a mature dining experience," she said.

Matt McIntosh, co-owner of Evo's pizza parlor, said business owners and patrons would benefit from expanding capacity to the outdoors. "We have those beautiful sidewalks; they're huge," he said pointing outside his restaurant. "They can support a lot of people out there."