Wednesday, August 20, 2014

A few questions about the city's new 12 a.m. bar ordinance

Version 2.0

Posted by Chris Haire on Wed, Aug 20, 2014 at 12:20 PM

Tonight, the City of Charleston's planning commission will vote on the rebooted midnight bar ordinance, and as our own Paul Bowers reported yesterday, the new plan isn't all that different from the old plan. However, the differences are significant. 

For starters, Version 2.0 bar ban eliminates some of the vagueness that plagued the first draft. This time around, we have confirmation that bars that are already in the red-tape pipeline will not be affected. Before we had a promise that this was the case, but the specifics were simply not in the ordinance.

More importantly, the new ban is only a short-term proposition, unlike Version 1.0 which would have, as written, had long-term implications to the entertainment districts, some of those potentially unintended. 

However, the new 12 a.m. doesn't address one of the major problems with today's Upper King Street status quo — and it's not the lack of mixed retail.

Nor is it crime, although the bar scene attracts its fair share of douche bags.

One of the principal issues that needs to be addressed here is a lack of parking. If the city had properly planned the revitalization of Upper King, they would have focused less on cosmetic changes and more on the practical matter of where everyone is going to park. As it stands now, parking variances for new restaurants are seemingly the norm, while late-night revelers prefer to park on neighboring streets rather than in the city's parking garages. 

While the soon-to-be proposed ordinance can't, you know, create parking out of thin air, it would have been nice if in the rather lengthy introduction to the ordinance, King Street's parking woes had been addressed — with the city, perhaps, making a commitment to addressing it. 

Although the bar ban sequel is a vast improvement over the previous incarnation — once again, we have an end date this go round, not a long-term sea change — there are still several questions that need to be asked.

1. Why did the city chose a three-year moratorium on new establishments serving alcohol after midnight? Why not a two- or one-year ban? Is it because the city needs this time to woo new retail businesses and startups to Upper King, and right now few if any businesses have expressed any true interest in moving to the area? 

2. Councilman Dean Riegel has proposed staggered closing times and discounted fees at parking garages. Why aren't these proposals being considered?

3. Why does the new 12 a.m. bar ban not apply to hotels? What's to prevent hotels from designing sidewalk-fronted bars that cater more to the public than hotel guests?

4. The planning department is scheduled to provide reports to City Council every six months in an effort to help the city determine what sort of long-term plan to enact. Will these plans be made available to the public at the same time as council? Will the city hire an outside firm to study the area or will it be an in-house job?

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