by Paul Bowers
The City of Charleston Planning Commission voted 5-4 Wednesday night to recommend a one-year moratorium on the opening of new bars that stay open past midnight within the existing entertainment districts on Market and Upper King streets. It also voted unanimously to reject a much-maligned ordinance that would permanently ban new bars that stay open after midnight within a proposed Entertainment District Overlay Zone.
The Planning Commission, a citizens' advisory group appointed by the mayor, originally considered a recommendation from City Planner Tim Keane to impose a three-year moratorium. But commission member Sunday Lempesis called a three-year ban "absolutely insane," and other members agreed. She also chastised Keane, saying that the fact he was asking for a moratorium reflected a lack of foresight on the part of the city. "It means we didn't plan well ahead," Lempesis said.
Keane and the city's Department of Planning, Preservation, and Sustainability drafted the moratorium in response to concerns voiced by Mayor Joseph P. Riley Jr. and Police Chief Greg Mullen that Upper King has become too densely packed with late-night businesses and that downtown sidewalks cannot handle the attendant crowds of revelers. During the Planning Commission meeting, Mullen attempted to showcase Upper King's late-night safety problem by showing a roughly seven-minute video of people stepping off of sidewalks, jaywalking, hailing cabs, and talking loudly.
"Charleston is not a place for an entertainment district," Keane said in his presentation to the Planning Commission. After the meeting, Keane said that he felt one year was not long enough to accomplish the goals of the moratorium.
Keane said after the meeting that he felt one year was not enough to accomplish the goals of the moratorium.
"We don't need three years to plan. The thinking behind the three years more had to do with the fact that conditions on the street would change over a three-year period of time," Keane said. "You'd have new businesses open up, the hotels that were under construction would be finished, and you'd have time for businesses to move in. If you look at the cycle of what's happening up there, three years is the right amount of time."
The Planning Commission does not have the final say on the moratorium. The recommendation will now go to Charleston City Council, which has already given a first reading to the original Entertainment District Overlay Zone plan. City Council now has the option to move forward with the original ordinance, adopt the one-year moratorium, revise either ordinance, or scrap them both and come up with a new ordinance altogether.