By Jennifer Tuohy, Island Eye News Editor
The issue of the so-called “Coffee Shop Ordinance” was discussed for the first time by Sullivan’s Island Town Council at its Aug. 4 workshop, following the passing of the first reading of the ordinance at its July meeting.
Council workshops are an informal meeting where audience members and the council members are able to engage in dialogue not allowed at the more rigid council meetings.
The Coffee Shop Ordinance will amend sections of the ordinance that governs eating establishments on the island. The changes will alter the definitions for “restaurant,” adding a use category for “Food Service Establishments,” and adding several categories and definitions of food service establishments; “Coffee Shop,” “Restaurant,” and “Bakery and Delicatessen.”
Councilman Pat O’Neil, chairman of the Land Use and Natural Resources committee, which is overseeing the Planning Commission’s management of the eating establishment ordinance change, initiated discussions with the small crowd of islanders who came to the meeting.
“If we are currently limiting restaurants to one block on Middle between stations 22 1/2 and 22 what was the discussion about limiting coffee shops to that same block?” he asked.
“The thinking behind that is that if you just allowed it in that one block it would limit it to one establishment, because of the 300 foot rule. And that might be considered illegal,” Randy Robinson, the Town’s building official, responded. “The reason the distance was put in there is to stop people opening coffee shops next door to each other.”
“The Commission went with the approach of looking at the change throughout the district, not just in the commercial core, which falls in line with good planning principles,” Lisa Darrow, assistant to the City Administrator, said. “Then they looked at trying to create a balance with the 300 foot buffer, which coincidentally resulted in the allowance of one on each block.”
Mayor Perkins then stressed that changing the ordinance is in no way designed to increase the size of the commercial district. “That’s not going to happen,” he said.
Resident Chuck Galis, who has been a vocal opponent of the ordinance change as it now stands, continued to express his concerns.
“This continues to be so troubling to me on so many different levels,” he said. “This is the umpteenth meeting we’ve sat at and nobody can get their arms around this. I just don’t feel we are ready to nail it down.
“I’m fully supportive of the continuation of the Café Medley model in the one block area,” he continued. “There can be three of them. But what I call the ‘march down Middle Street’ of food and beverage is very troubling to me. Enforcement is going to be impossible. I don’t think it’s defined enough despite all the effort, we’re just not there yet. Enforcement is my big deal here. What do our current ordinances require in terms of verifying alcohol sales?”
This question prompted much raising of eyebrows and murmuring among the council members and town staffers present, finally producing the answer: “Nothing.”
“That’s really troubling to learn,” Pat O’Neil said. “If we’re saying the restaurants have to be at 49 percent or less (alcohol consumption), then we have to stay on top of that. There are an awful lot of beer trucks on the streets in the morning.”
“I disagree that this hasn’t been thought about enough,” said Bill Ross of Atlantic Avenue.
“I think it’s actually very well written, very protective of the city and what our goals are in managing this growth. We can always come up with a crazy loophole—but a lot of these fears are pretty impractical. It would be hard to sneak a restaurant on this island and make money. I support the ordinance you have come up with so far,” Michael Bourne said.
“The creep of the alcohol and beverage industry down Middle Street is what concerns me. It’s a risk / benefit scenario. The town has no need for a new ordinance. But we do have a risk in putting out a new ordinance. There’s risk without any need. That’s what I don’t understand.”
Drew Harris, owner of Café Medley on Middle Street, responded to this by expressing his belief that the recent hiring of the town’s first Zoning Administrator in eight years, Joe Henderson, will go a long way in helping to enforce the current zoning code.
“The town has operated for eight years without a zoning administrator and I think Joe has shown the benefit of having one already,” he said.
“The amendment doesn’t just address coffee shops—it clarifies regulations on all the restaurants and will help with enforcing some of the issues you’ve raised.
“Currently in the zoning there is no existing possibility for a small, locally-focused business for grabbing a sandwich on the way to school, sitting down over coffee with the neighbors,” he continued.
“Residents want that kind of locally driven, resident-focused business to be available because generally the existing restaurants service off island visitors. What’s being discussed is focused on local, on-island residents.”
The second reading and ratification of the “Coffee Shop ordinance” is on the agenda for the Town Council meeting of Tuesday, Aug 19.