UNION — A divided Union City Council took a step this week toward allowing businesses that serve alcohol such as bars and nightclubs to open and operate in downtown Union.
In its November meeting Tuesday evening, council voted 5-2 to approve first reading of an ordinance amending “the Union Zoning Ordinance regarding bars, taverns, and nightclubs.”
Council was presented with the following proposed changes to the Zoning Ordinance which would revise the sections dealing with permitted uses in non-residential districts within the city. The amendment to the Zoning Ordinance states that “many communities across South Carolina allow eating and drinking establishments as permitted uses in their downtowns to help generate activity during evening hours to complement and support retail, office, and residential uses.”
It states that “bars and taverns require a special exception from the Board of Zoning Appeals for bars in the A-1, A-2, and A-5 districts. Bars are not permitted in the A-3, A-4 or Industrial districts.” It further states that “allowing bars and taverns in the A-1 Central Business District encompassing the heart of the Main Street commercial area in a logical location. The State of South Carolina requires a separation distance of 300 feet from a church, school, or playground.”
The amendment concludes that “it appears that these changes will enhance the qaulity of life in the city.”
Counncil’s vote Tuesday means that the Zoning Ordinance’s “Table of Permitted Uses for Non-Residential is hereby amended by revising the Permitted Uses for Bar/Tavern (Non-Sexual Oriented) and Nightclub.” The amendment also includes the following definitions of those establishments:
• Bar — A commercial establishment, including taverns, whose primary function is the sale of alcoholic beverages for consumption in the premises and which is licensed as such by the State ABC Boards. Dance floors are not permitted.
• Nightclub — A commercial establishment serving alcoholic beverages for consumption on the premises and in which dancing and musical entertainment are permitted.
Mayor Harold Thompson was one of the five council members to vote in favor of the ordinance. Thompson said Thursday that he doesn’t have a problem with such establishments in the downtown area. He pointed out that liquor can already be purchased in the downtown area through much of the day.
“I’m not opposed to a bar in the central business district,” Thompson said. “If you look at the map there’s a liquor store in the central business district right across the railroad tracks from the USC Union campus.”
Thompson pointed out that alcohol can already be purchased from that liquor store throughout the day. Furthermore, he said that a bar would operate at certain set hours and would be a “controlled situation, so if anybody got out of hand they could be asked to leave or removed by the authorities.” He added that he feels that the people of Union will be responsible enough to handle having a bar in the central business district.
Councilwoman Sonja Craig said she voted for the ordinance because she feels it will be a boon to the city, generating badly needed business and economic growth.
“I think it is going to bring more money into the city,” Craig said Thursday. “We’ll get more foot traffic, more business, and eventually a nice restaurant. I’m not talking about dive bars, I’m talking about upscale pubs that serve craft beers and craft wines.
“I went with the Tourism Commission to Brevard, NC, last summer,” she said. “That town was like Union 20 years ago then they got alcohol sales downtown and the place is booming. I think that will do the same for Union because right now we’ve got nothing to keep people here.”
Furthermore, Craig said that “if you go to any town around us like Spartanburg, Newberry, Greenville they all have alcohol sales and all you have to do is drive down to Whitmire and you can buy beer on Sundays and right across the bridge into Chester County and do the same. All that money is going to those counties and it is leaving Union.”
Councilmen Tommy Anthony and Ricky Harris voted against the ordinance. Both said that while they were not opposed to establishments in the downtown serving alcohol, they felt it should be in a restaurant where food is prepared and served along with alcohol. That, they said, is not the case with the ordinance which permits bars where only alcohol would be served.
“If just don’t feel like it’s the right thing for Union right now,” Anthony said Thursday. “A lot of people don’t understand, it’s not a restaurant, it’s a bar, and in the packet we got a bar is a place that sells just alcohol. This is just a place to consume alcohol. I don’t feel like we need this in downtown Union. If it was a restaurant preparing food the premises I would be all for it.”
Harris said that while he, like most of the residents of his district, are not in favor of a bar, they don’t have a problem with a restaurant that serves alcohol along with food.
“I’m not against drinking,” Harris said Thursday. “I am for a restaurant that serves alcohol.
“I’ve talked with many people in my district and while some are in favor of a bar, the majority are not in favor of it and that’s why I voted against it,” he said. “The majority of the people in my district I’ve talked to, however, are in favor of a restaurant with a bar.”
Charles Warner can be reached at 864-762-4090.