Charleston City Council passes first reading of outdoor dining ordinance

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CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCBD) – Charleston City Council is considering permanently easing some restrictions on outdoor dining in the city. The move comes after some restrictions were eased temporarily last year to help restaurants through COVID-19. City Council unanimously passed the first reading of the ordinance at Tuesday night’s meeting.

The mayor and council have directed staff to bring them a list of any businesses that might lose some tables outside before second reading to ensure that no business is negatively impacted by the ordinance, which would require tables be further away from the edge of the sidewalks.

The ordinance temporarily easing restrictions on outdoor dining across the city is set to expire in January. Some city leaders and business owners say the changes have gone so well they believe they should be implemented on a permanent basis.

“I think you can embrace the character of the city you know while you’re eating more so than in an enclosed restaurant,” says Deanne Wileman, a local patron.

Some restaurant owners say when the new ordinance took effect, it had a big impact.

“Outdoor dining is an incredible benefit,” says Brian Solarie, Owner of Carmella’s Café and Dessert Bar on East Bay Street.

Outdoor dining is not new to the City of Charleston but is more popular now than ever. Solarie says many restaurants jumped on the opportunity to open outdoor dining early on.

“I think a lot of the places have always wanted to have it if they hadn’t,” says Solarie. “And if they’ve implemented it since COVID-19, they’ve realized what an incredible compliment that is for their business.”

Business owners and city leaders alike say they’ve noticed a outdoor dining adding a benefit across the city for many. Christopher Morgan, a Planning Manager with the City of Charleston’s Planning, Preservation and Sustainability Department says more outdoor dining will enhance business and the quality of life.

“We want to encourage you know the success of our restaurants, we greatly value our restaurants in this community,” says Morgan. “Sidewalk dining also adds a lot to the urban ambience of Charleston.”

Alcohol and food can be sold in the outdoor dining spaces, the area must be a non-mobile extension of the restaurant in the business’ rights of way. Restaurants are also required to obtain permits for the space through the city. More importantly, Morgan says safety has to remain top of mind.

“Ten feet of sidewalk has to be that kind of width so that folks can have that sidewalk dining and then having appropriate width for pedestrians to get by,” says Morgan.

As some changes because of COVID-19 return to normal, others could stick around. Solarie says eased restrictions on outdoor dining is a good change for the city to keep.

“I see it all over the place and the diners love it so if the diners love it, it’s going to be good for the business,” says Solarie.

“I think there’s always a need for outdoor dining,” says Wileman.

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