by Paul Bowers
In support of the late-night bar moratorium that passed a first reading at Charleston City Council last week, Police Chief Greg Mullen gave the following PowerPoint presentation:
Mullen and Mayor Joseph P. Riley Jr. have been outspoken proponents of regulating the booming entertainment districts on Upper King Street and the Market since May. They initially proposed an ordinance that would have denied permits to all new late-night bars (that is, ones that stay open after midnight) in the Entertainment District Overlay Zone, but now they are backing a more modest plan to place a one-year moratorium denying permits to new late-night bars in that same geographic area.
In his presentation, Mullen began by comparing daytime and nighttime crime rates in what he called the Charleston Business District & Hospitality Area (CBD&HA), with nighttime hours defined as 5 p.m. to 5 a.m. Later charts also showed rising rates of nighttime arrests for disorderly conduct and assault (the two were combined into a single category of crime), alcohol violations, false ID violations, and narcotics violations.
"Now, there have been some questions about staffing as well, a lot about 'Just go down there and arrest everybody, just go down there and put everybody in jail,'" Mullen said during his presentation. "I don't know what the magic number is for arrests to make people think there's a problem down on King Street. But I can tell you that we could probably double the number of arrests that we have up here, but that's not what we're about. We're not about locking everybody up that violates the law, and I don't think that's what this council or anybody else in our community wants us to do."
The PowerPoint ends by pulling a quote from Jane Jacobs' 1961 book The Death and Life of Great American Cities, a classic critique of mid-century urban planning that called for higher-density, mixed-use developments in cities:
Night spots are today overwhelming the street, and are also overwhelming the life of the area. Into a district excellent at handling and protecting strangers they have concentrated too many strangers, all in too irresponsible a mood, for any conceivable city to handle naturally. The duplication of the most profitable use is undermining the base of its own attraction, as disproportionate duplication and exaggeration of some single use always does in cities.
The presentation appeared to be a response to a challenge from the Greater Charleston Restaurant Association, which commissioned the following report from attorneys Elliott A. Smith and Parker Hastings. The bill analysis is lengthy, but in summary it says that a moratorium is "a crisis-management tool" and that city leaders have neither demonstrated the need for the moratorium nor articulated its goals:
The bill analysis presents Charleston's food and beverage industry as a boon for commercial property values, a source of employment, and an attractive element for young professionals. "Burdensome regulations that lack a clear purpose may result in a chilling effect in this crucial industry, in turn resulting in discouraging a greater degree of growth and investment than city officials may have intended by enacting a moratorium," Smith and Hastings write.
But the "chilling effect" they refer to may be part of city officials' motivation behind pushing the moratorium. City planner Tim Keane, who originally called for a three-year moratorium before the city Planning Commission pared down his proposal, said at an Aug. 20 meeting that he and other officials did not think Charleston should have an entertainment district at all.
"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 at the time. "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."
At the same Aug. 20 Planning Commission meeting, Chief Mullen presented a video of late-night scenes from the bar districts to demonstrate public safety and enforcement issues in the area. Here is the video, captured on a cell phone camera at the meeting:
Charleston City Council will consider giving final approval to the one-year moratorium at its next meeting, which will take place on Oct. 14 at 5 p.m. in City Hall (80 Broad St.).