Editorial: In the absence of a deal, Charleston bar expected to see a whole new meaning of ‘close time’ | Editorials
One of the biggest challenges in running the City of Charleston is finding the right balance between a thriving downtown economy – an economy where tourism, education, and other business components are important to statewide – while making sure people still want to live there.
It’s a balancing act that requires constant attention, so it was good news when the city began to wage a legal battle five years ago over a rooftop bar at The Hotel The Dewberry across from Marion Square – a bar that the city said was not allowed in its zoning. and that residents feared making too much noise and harming their quality of life.
We’re encouraged that the city’s legal efforts paid off last week when the SC Court of Appeals overturned an earlier ruling allowing the rooftop bar. The appeals court found that the city’s zoning board did indeed have the power to say whether the hotel could operate the bar, known as the Citrus Club.
Plans approved by the city in 2011 showed a swimming pool and glazed area for a spa and fitness center in a so-called special exception use. But after the renovation of the old federal office building into a hotel, its eighth floor was converted for an event space and a bar with an outdoor terrace.
The hotel applied to the city’s Zoning Appeal Board in April 2017 to allow the use of the bar, but the council refused, citing concerns from the Mazyck-Wraggborough neighborhood just to the east. The Dewberry then went to court and a judge ruled in 2017 that the board had made a mistake – and the hotel was allowed to open the bar while the legal battle continued.
Last week’s decision is significant because it reaffirms the city’s power to regulate a change in commercial use. “Depending on the interpretation of the circuit court orders, a hotel, such as (The) Dewberry, could submit plans for a special exception that did not include any improper incidental use, and then, after receiving approval from the BZA, including use of BZA in construction would not have approved, ”said the decision. In other words, if someone gets zoning permission for a 3 bedroom house but opens a kennel instead, the city has the legal right to step in and shut it down.
According to our reporter Emily Williams, the hotel’s general manager said the hotel “has been operating responsibly” since opening and is “saddened and exhausted by these heinous legal machinations.”
These machinations are far from heinous: it is a good faith effort by the city to protect the quality of residential life in the hotel’s backyard – a backyard whose unique homes and 19th-century private rooms provide much of the Charleston vibe that The Dewberry guests come to see. The voices of these residents should carry considerable weight.
An earlier order allowing The Dewberry to operate the Citrus Club bar and its Rivers Room event venue remains in effect until this case is over, but if the city wins, both are expected to shut down. As the owners of the Dewberry assess a possible appeal to the SC Supreme Court, we suggest another avenue.
If the operation of the bar had as little of an impact as the hotel owners claim, then we are sure the neighborhood and the city would be ready to move in. They could surely agree on a framework that would set a closing time, address amplified music and possibly offer other supports to the neighborhood. After all, the Citrus Club is the tallest of the city’s many rooftop bars, with spectacular views of downtown, the Ravenel Bridge, and beyond (and the bar won a national award in 2020 for its exceptional design).
If, as the hotel management has said, some residents of Mayzck-Wraggborough are among the more enthusiastic clientele of the Citrus Club, then there should be plenty of opportunities to strike such a deal that would keep the bar open. while responding to the concerns of neighbors. We urge both sides to work on such an agreement now rather than continuing to fight it in court.
Downtown Charleston is teeming with all kinds of tension between those who live here and those who work there – whether that job is serving drinks, taking horse-drawn carriage tours, running hotels, cooking, educating students or driving stilts. These tensions give the city center a vitality that many people may find as fascinating and distinct as the city’s varied architecture.
The surest way to kill this vitality is to give the upper hand to economic interests to the point that no one wants to live here anymore.