Planning commission recommends 1-year bar moratorium

MOUNT PLEASANT, S.C. (WCIV) - The proposed downtown Charleston bar ordinance took yet another form Wednesday night at a planning commission meeting.

City leaders went before the planning commission looking to get approval for a three-year moratorium on new bars and restaurants serving alcohol past midnight.

But they fell short after three hours of often heated debate, only getting the approval to recommend a one-year wait to the full city council.

One man described the proposed moratorium as something that was putting a stranglehold on the food and beverage industry.

Chris DiMattia, the owner of the Recovery Room, said the decision by the planning commission won't disrupt business at his King Street bar because he's been there for years, but he's still not celebrating Wednesday night's recommendation.

"This will hurt small businesses and future businesses, and in the end we will still have crowded streets at 2 a.m.," he said.

Restricting new bars and restaurants from serving alcohol after midnight had many opponents.

"I don't have Mom and Dad to help me financially. The GI bill pays for my school. The nightlife pays for my food," said one man, a veteran who works at a local bar.

But it also had its supporters, including Mayor Joe Riley, Police Chief Greg Mullen, and countless residents who live in the area.

"Packs of people are leaving the bars inebriated and going into the residential streets at 2 a.m. We call them the roaming drunken packs," said Claire Exodus, a resident of Bogard Street.

"We look for the city to find a way to maintain growth, but to also keep those living in neighborhoods living and enjoying neighborhoods," said a resident of the French Quarter, another part of the city heavily populated by bars.

City planner Tim Keane said issues brought up by the moratorium's supporters are exactly why it's needed.

"Our streets are part of the neighborhood so we have to be real careful of how things evolve on the streets. We are at a period where the bars' use is in hyper demand in that area and we need to dial that back to keep the streets safe," Keane said.

In the meantime, DiMattia may have to hire more staff to accommodate all the patrons leaving bars that close at midnight and flocking to his.

City council will discuss the issue during next month's meeting.