by Paul Bowers
Charleston City Council voted Tuesday night to approve a first reading of a one-year moratorium on the opening of new businesses that serve alcohol on premises after midnight within a geographic area including the King Street and Market entertainment districts.
The map of the affected area includes much of Market, King, and Meeting streets. If the ordinance passes a second and third reading at a subsequent City Council meeting in October, no new business licenses will be granted to late-night bars (unless they are in hotels) within the affected area for a full year.
The moratorium does not force existing bars in the district to close their doors at midnight. It was heavily supported by downtown neighborhood associations and largely rejected by representatives of the food and beverage industry, which has been responsible for much of the rejuvenation of the once-struggling Upper King Street district.
Three City Council members voted nay on the ordinance's first reading: Dean Riegel, Kathleen Wilson, and Aubry Alexander. Wilson had requested that the ordinance be amended so that the moratorium would end in May 2015, pointing out that the moratorium has already essentially been in effect since City Council began considering the overlay zone in May 2014. "By having the moratorium end on Sept. 22, we have in effect created a 15-month moratorium," Wilson said.
Mayor Joseph P. Riley Jr. and Police Chief Gregory Mullen spoke at length in favor of the moratorium, saying that an over-concentration of bars had led to increases in alcohol-related violations and disorderly conduct downtown. Councilman William Dudley Gregorie, speaking in support of the ordinance, said, "I do think it's important that we protect the brand at all costs."
Councilman Alexander replied to Gregorie's concern saying, "Is the brand history? Is the brand food and beverage? What is bringing people to this city?"
City Council's next meeting is scheduled for Oct. 14 at City Hall (80 Broad St.).
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