Charleston City Council to review updated requirements for late night businesses

Published: Aug. 10, 2022 at 7:27 PM EDT|Updated: Aug. 10, 2022 at 10:05 PM EDT
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CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - Certain Charleston businesses may soon have to meet specific standards to continue operating late at night. The city has been working on updates to its late-night establishment ordinance since last fall.

The city defines a late-night establishment as any business that serves alcohol and operates past midnight. The ordinance has been in place since 2013. Charleston Police Deputy Chief Dustin Thompson says anytime a rule is going on 10 years old, there is usually room for improvement.

That is why the city has been holding community feedback sessions and focus groups about updates to the ordinance since October.

“What some of the feedback that we kept hearing over and over again is ‘I follow the rules, I established a safe environment for my patrons, for my customers, for our citizens, for the tourists; Don’t punish me, I’m following the rules,’ Thompson says. “We took that feedback and we heard it. So the recommended new ordinance is exactly that. It’s on the business owner to establish a safe environment.”

Officials say the updates are all about safety. The city wants to give owners clear guidelines on how to operate at night and also have consequences for when they don’t provide a safe environment.

“We want to put that on the owners of the business,” Thompson says. “When they can’t handle that is where the city would step in and start issuing tickets and remedial processes and corrective actions. But we don’t want to get to that point.”

A late-night establishment must apply for a specific permit to serve alcohol and stay open past midnight. The updated ordinance includes guidelines for how and where to staff security. It provides a guide on how much security needs to be in place based on the population present at a business. It also has businesses create a safety plan to prevent underage drinking and ensure crowd control.

Jeff Diehl is the CEO of Charleston Hospitality Group. He says they have about five businesses this ordinance would apply to. He says the current administration has been good about reaching out to businesses for feedback during the creation process.

“The one thing that becomes the primary concern of the new ordinance that we have, or that’s being proposed, is this emergency declaration of, you know, we can close your restaurant, close your bar, as we see fit if we deem it to be an emergency,” Diehl says.

The ordinance states if an emergency, such as a violent altercation, major crime or physical damage happens, law enforcement can shut down the venue for the rest of the night and move forward with a follow-up meeting and further action.

Thompson says he hopes it will not be a common occurrence.

“The proposed new ordinance has some tiers set into where if it does get to that point, then we’ll meet with you,” Thomson says. “We’ll provide our recommended corrective actions for you to follow if you don’t follow that you still having problems and again, we can’t come to a resolution that it might trigger a second violation which starts the revocation of the permit.”

Officials want to be clear that it takes two late-night citations in one year to trigger a permit potentially being taken away. That is the late-night permit to stay open and serve alcohol past midnight. A late-night citation has no effect on a business license or operations at any other time.

Diehl says he understands that the city took every party’s input and is now likely doing what they think is best.

“We want to believe this is in the best interest of everybody, best interest of the city, best interest of the residents, best interest of the employees, best interest of the residents,” Diehl says. “What all of Charleston wants, every business owner, employee of the city, every resident wants to feel safe number one, and then number two wants to be safe.”

Businesses will have to apply for a recurring late-night permit every year and submit their plans for safety with the application. Charleston City Council will review the updates for the first time at its Aug. 16 meeting. Officials hope the ordinance will pass later this year and be put in place by next year.

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