Charleston City Council passes one-year alcohol ban for new bars

Published: Sep. 23, 2014 at 8:52 PM EDT|Updated: Sep. 24, 2014 at 10:14 AM EDT
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CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) - Charleston City Council passed a one-year ban on permits for new businesses in certain areas on the peninsula that want to serve alcohol between 12 a.m. and 6 a.m.

Council voted Tuesday night 9 to 3 to pass the first reading of the ordinance which takes effect immediately and will end on Sept. 22, 2015.

The ordinance will ban permits for bars and restaurants that want to serve alcohol after midnight along King, Meeting and most of Market Street for one year.

While the ban is immediately taking effect, there will still be two more readings.

The issue has been a tug-of war for months, and while there was a decision Tuesday night, it did not come easily.

Charleston Police Chief Greg Mullen pushed for the ban from a safety perspective, while Planning Director Tim Keane said it was an opportunity to restore some balance to downtown's business landscape.

"I'm not against alcohol establishments, but against the behavior associated with it," said Mullen who added that alcohol is driving Charleston to higher crime rates.

Representatives from the food and beverage industry opposed the ban from the beginning, and some council members defended it.

"Something has to be done, and it has to be done now," said Councilman Robert Mitchell."When they came up with the three-year-moratorium, I was going to vote for that because I live there, and I see what's happening. All these things are happening mostly in the district I represent."

"It's disheartening to think that the first moratorium in the history of Charleston will be against the hospitality industry," said Steve Carroll, president of the Charleston Restaurant Association.

Representatives from various neighborhoods also spoke saying that they were in favor of some type of ban on new bars selling alcohol into the late night hours.

Proponents hope the temporary ban will encourage more businesses and restaurants in the area and limit new bars.

"It has been a long journey," said Councilman Mike Seekings who voted for the ban."It has been a lot of debate, and I think one of the things that I'm most satisfied about, regardless of the outcome, is we had a city-wide debate about this."

"Very disappointed because I think we as a city and we as a great council need to move forward on other issues," said Councilman Dean Riegel who voted against the ban."I think we had resolutions in place. I think there were opportunities to resolve the matter, and we didn't take advantage of that."

A 21-member committee will lead a study over the next year and report back to council and the mayor regularly.

Also on Tuesday's agenda, the Committee on Ways and Means approved a $4.2 million contract for converting Cannon and Spring streets into 2-way streets. It will now go to full council. If that plan is approved, the change would be complete by the end of next year.

A third provision on the agenda may allow 85-foot buildings in a section of downtown Charleston.

Council also gave the thumbs up to extend the bike racks in downtown Charleston. They approved the parking from Calhoun to Marking Street. Currently, people can only leave their bikes from Calhoun to Spring Street. Last October, the City of Charleston passed a 1-year pilot program to ban people from locking up bikes to street lights, stop signs and trees.

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