Pictured: Mushroom co-owner Michael Shem-Tov at the site of the new King Street patio
After banning indoor smoking nearly two years ago, zoning officials at the City of Charleston made a move on Tuesday to give smokers an alternative to busy city sidewalks.
A request for a back patio at Mad River Bar & Grille on North Market Street was refused in 2007. But a new effort for a smaller patio received the thumbs up from city staff and the Board of Zoning Appeals largely due to the need for smoking space. The City of Charleston banned smoking in all indoor businesses in July 2007 after years of debate on the impact it would have on businesses, but with little conversation about where the smokers would go.
“What’s happening now is that there’s a large crowd of people on the front sidewalk on Market Street,” says Lee Batchelder, the city’s zoning director. “It’s more noticeable in this area because of the proximity of other bars and restaurants.
Nearby venues include the Market Street Saloon, Wild Wing Cafe, Purple Tree Lounge, and Henry’s Bar and Restaurant, among others.
“I think there’s a real need to provide outdoor space for these establishments,” Batchelder says, though not naming specific bars or restaurants.
The solution is a bit more palatable at Mad River because the building at the corner of East Bay and North Market Street has more space in the back than most downtown bars. The patio will include an outdoor bar (until 11 p.m.) and limited table seating.
Preservationists and representatives from the Ansonborough neighborhood opposed the request.
“This is just providing a bar and music, and it’s an intrusion into the neighborhood,” says Robert Gurley, executive director of the Charleston Preservation Society.
The zoning board refused a request for outside speakers, fearing the sound might travel a few blocks, affecting downtown residents.
A similar request last year for a rooftop patio at Mellow Mushroom on King Street was shot down by the zoning board because of opposition from the owners of the building next door, who had rental units that would have been adjacent to the roof-top patio.
On Thursday, Mellow Mushroom owners announced that they were able to work with the city to win approval for the patio:
"When the patio is complete it will have a lush tropical feel," according to a release. "Since there are residential apartments next to the Mellow Mushroom, there will not have an outdoor bar, live music, and will have reduced hours by closing at midnight instead of 2a.m. The focus instead will be on outdoor dining."
These successful requests could be followed by more businesses. Batchelder says patrons need a place to smoke.
“That shouldn’t be on the sidewalk in front of the business if at all possible,” he says.
City Preps Drainage Plan
For Federal Stimulus Aid
Though there’s no money to start the project, the City of Charleston is moving ahead with plans for the $127 million Spring/Fishburne U.S. 17 drainage improvements, with officials eyeing federal stimulus cash that could put the project on the fast track.
The city has made improvements in problem areas throughout the downtown region, but work in the Spring/Fishburne area has been put off because of the excessive cost.
City stormwater officials received preliminary approval last week from Charleston’s Board of Architectural Review for a Crosstown pump station that would flow into the Ashley River off Lockwood Drive between the two bridges that connect the peninsula to West Ashley. The hope is that securing permits and easements for the project will increase the appeal when the city makes a pitch for Federal Highway Administration money, says Laura Cabiness, the city’s public services director.
“Projects that are shovel-ready will be looked at more favorably, so we have to make sure we have it in shape,” she says.
After years of sparse resources to start such a massive endeavour, the city had started looking at ways to divide the project into phases, stretching it out for years in order to pay for it. But the possibility of receiving federal money has the city looking in the opposite direction — condensing what would was first expected to be a four-year-project into one that will last as little as two and a half, Cabiness says.
Last month, city council members went to Washington to lobby S.C. congressmen on a number of Charleston issues, including support for the drainage project. Councilman Gary White says that he was encouraged by the response.
“Everyone we spoke to was already aware of the project and the need, and they were supportive of finding the money for the project,” he says.
The more than $5 million the city has invested in designing the project also provides a clear signal to Washington that Charleston “already has some skin in the game,” he says. It’s also made the project the essence of “shovel ready.”
“Aside from the money, it’s about as close as you can get,” White says.
Also on the BAR’s agenda Wednesday:
• A proposal to demolish a two story building at 79 Wentworth St. and build a six-story, 36-room boutique hotel.
• A request from Starbucks to add pergolas out front and a fresh coat of paint at the College of Charleston site, 168 Calhoun St. —Greg Hambrick
Update: The BAR loved the pump station — it was evident that this was the closest thing to architect porn. They were slightly less thrilled with the boutique hotel on Wentworth, with the consensus seeming to be that it could benefit from losing the top floor, even though it fits in the city's height zoning. That project was deferred to give the architect time to address the height and other concerns.
People For the Ethical Treatment of Animals is calling for a ban on horse-drawn carriage rides in Charleston following a Charleston City Paper report last week of a spooked horse incident.
On March 26, a driver for Classic Carriage Tours told police that she was turning the corner at Market and Anson streets when her horse was startled by the sound of construction machinery and ran down the street "at a high rate of speed." Fearing for pedestrians, the driver veered the horse and carriage to the side of the road.
According to the police report, "The result of the sudden stop overturned the carriage, bending the stop sign at North Market Street and Anson Street completely over onto the sidewalk."
The driver was uninjured, but the incident, along with five others covered in the City Paper's pages since January 2008 involving various carriage companies, prompted a letter from PETA to Charleston Mayor Joe Riley to ban horse-drawn carriages.
"It's cruel and dangerous to force horses to pull oversized loads in heavy traffic and extreme weather conditions," says PETA Director Debbie Leahy in a press release. "The number of incidents that have occurred in Charleston make it clear that banning horse-drawn carriages is the only way to ensure the safety of passengers, horses, and motorists."
Riley responded Tuesday, saying the horse carriage industry in Charleston has been "vigilantly" managed for 25 years.
"The horse drawn carriages are a very safe and delightful way to see the sights of our historic city of Charleston," he said. "As a matter of procedure, the City of Charleston investigates all incidents involving horses and carriages. The industry is highly motivated to ensure safety for their riders and for their horses as is the city. The concerns of PETA are noted but the City feels that there is no anxiety warranted. We will continue to maintain great standards and service the model for the care and respect for horses and the carriage industry.”
In the letter to Riley, Desiree Acholla, PETA's Animals in Entertainment Specialist, notes two other recent horse carriage accidents in the past few weeks, including a spooked horse incident in Salem, N.Y. that required a nine-year-old boy to be airlifted to a hospital and an one in Victoria, Canada, that injured a carriage driver.
"As evidenced by these tragic incidents, the horse-drawn carriage industry endangers the public and horses," Acholla wrote. "… We hope that you will make the compassionate decision to protect Charleston's many residents, tourists, and horses by banning horse-drawn carriages before another tragedy strikes."
A startled horse in Downtown Charleston overturned a carriage and bent a stop sign down to the ground, according to a police report.
Near 10 a.m. on March 26, a Classic Carriage Tours driver was turning the corner at Market and Anson streets when she says the horse was startled by the sound of construction machinery. The frightened animal then allegedly ran down the street "at a high rate of speed." The driver veered the horse and carriage to the side of the road in order to avoid pedestrians.
"The result of the sudden stop overturned the carriage, bending the stop sign at North Market St. and Anson St. Completely over onto the sidewalk," according to the police report.
The driver and two other tour company workers were not injured and declined medical assistance.
Other accidents we've reported:
• A horse carriage hit the rear bumper of a police car in January. The carriage driver from Palmetto Carriage Co. told police the horse was "spooked" by a puddle of water. There were no injuries. Highway patrol responded to the scene but did not file a report because the horse carriage was not a motor vehicle.
• Another Classic Carriage driver was taken to the hospital with minor injuries Oct. 18 after a startled carriage horse ran between two parked cars, tipping over the carriage and throwing her from her seat. She told police the rubber around the carriage wheel came off, startling the horse.
• Last March, someone reportedly struck a carriage wheel, spooking the horse and sending the carriage into race speed. The carriage driver calmed the horse after about a block, but the carriage had about $2,500 in damage.
• And last February, we covered two horse carriage incidents within 10 days of one another, including one that injured six tourists.
Rep. Wendell Gilliard (D-Charleston) has proposed a study to determine how the recession is impacting the state's homeless population, including the possible use of tents for those turned away from crowded shelters.
Introduced last week, H. 3801 would require a study of the number of homeless in the state and "assess the availability and capacities of homeless shelters in each county, and determine the feasibility of using tent-like temporary shelters to be obtained with state funds to house on a short-term basis persons who would otherwise be turned away."
Gilliard says he's heard terrible stories of people turned away from shelters and that it can only get worse as the recession continues.
"We need to see if we're prepared to handle the onslaught of people," he says of the study, which would be completed in January, if approved by the legislature.
Solid numbers on the homeless population and their needs could help in lobbying for more funding in Columbia and Washington to expand and renovate shelters, Gilliard says. The tents he's suggesting would be able to withstand harsh temperatures, particularly through cold winter months, he says.