by Paul Bowers
Wednesday night, the City of Charleston's Planning Commission will take up the issue of a proposed moratorium on late-night bars within the city's booming downtown entertainment districts. The meeting will take place at 5 p.m. Wednesday in the school board meeting room at 75 Calhoun St.
If you follow the story or have been hearing about it secondhand from your friends in food and beverage, you know that this is a do-over after the city scrapped its original plan to ban all new late-night businesses within a sizeable chunk of the peninsula. That plan aroused fears in the industry that the city was about to kill its golden goose, and restaurateurs came back in strong opposition. City planner Tim Keane dropped a strong hint at a July 17 public forum that the midnight proposal was dead in the water, and now we're getting to see the alternative. If the Planning Commission likes the new ordinance, they'll pass it along to City Council for consideration.
The full proposal is embedded below, along with a map of the proposed Late Night Bar Moratorium Area and Keane's letter to the Charleston Restaurant Association floating the idea. We read through the proposal and sussed out what's new and what stayed the same:
• Rather than use zoning law changes to affect closing times to curb the opening of new late-night bars — the Goldbergian plan of the original midnight ordinance — this new proposal is simple and direct. It would put a 36-month moratorium on the opening of any new businesses that serve alcohol on their premises after midnight within the Late Night Bar Moratorium Area. From what we can tell, this area is exactly the same as the Entertainment District Overlay Zone and includes much of the King and Meeting corridor, plus the Market area.
• The moratorium is being pitched as a chance for the Department of Planning, Preservation, and Sustainability to come up with "recommendations regarding the reasonable regulation of businesses allowing on-premise consumption of beer, wine, and alcohol after midnight." The department would be required to report to City Council every six months on its findings.
What's the Same
• Existing late-night businesses within the moratorium area are grandfathered in. This was already the case with the original midnight ordinance because it was implied by existing zoning laws. However, in the new proposal, the grandfather clause is written out explicitly: "The temporary moratorium shall not apply to establishments in the study area that are permitted by law to allow on-premise consumption of beer, wine, or alcohol after midnight that are open for business as of the date of ratification of this ordinance."
• As with the original midnight ordinance, hotel bars are still exempt for some reason. Specifically, new late-night bars are allowed "within a place of accommodations that has 20 or more rooms."