UNION — It is now legal to open and operate a bar or nightclub that serves alcohol in the central business district of downtown Union.
At its December meeting Tuesday evening, Union City Council voted 5-2 to approve second and final reading of an ordinance amending “the Union Zoning Ordinance regarding bars, taverns, and nightclubs.”
The ordinance approved Tuesday revises 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 quality of life in the city.”
Council’s vote on 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.
Council voted at its November meeting to approve first reading of the ordinance, also by a vote of 5-2. Councilmen Tommy Anthony and Ricky Harris voted no both at the November meeting and on Tuesday.
In voting against the ordinance in November, Anthony and Harris said they were not opposed to establishments in the downtown serving alcohol, but 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.
Anthony said he felt it was not the right thing for Union at the present time, pointing out that a bar, which would be permitted under the amendment, is a place that just alcohol. He said he didn’t feel like this was something that was needed in downtown Union. If, however, it was restaurant preparing food on the premises, Anthony said he would be all for it.
Harris said that he, like most of the residents in his district, was in favor of a restaurant that serves alcohol along with food. He said he had spoken with the residents of his district and while some were in favor of a bar, the majority were not and that was why he’d voted against it. In talking with that majority, however, Harris said they were in favor of a restaurant with a bar.
The five council members voting in favor of the amendment, both in November and on Tuesday, included Councilwoman Sonja Craig who said in November that she feels it will be a boon to the city, generating badly needed business and economic growth. Craig said there will be more foot traffic, more business and, eventually, a nice restaurant. Furthermore, Craig said she was not talking about dive bars, but upscale pubs serving craft beer and craft wines.
Craig pointed out that she’d went with the Union County Tourism Commission to Brevard, NC, last summer, a town that she said 20 years ago was like Union is today. That all changed when alcohol sales began to be permitted in the downtown area and things are now booming. She said she feels this can do the same for Union because at the present time there’s nothing to keep people here.
Craig also pointed out that cities like Spartanburg, Newberry, Greenville all have alcohol sales. Furthermore, she said all you have to do is drive to Whitmire Newberry County or across the bridge into Chester County to buy beer on Sundays. She said that all that money is leaving Union County and going into surrounding counties.
Also voting in favor of the ordinance was Mayor Harold Thompson who said in November that he doesn’t have a problem with such establishments being in the downtown area. Thompson said that liquor can already be purchase there throughout much of the day, pointing out that there is already a liquor store in the downtown area across the railroad tracks from USC Union.
While liquor can already be bought in the downtown area through much of the day, Thompson said that a bar would operate at certain set hours and would be a controlled situation, so if anyone got out of hand they could be asked to leave or removed by law enforcement. Thompson added that he feels that the people of Union will be responsible enough to handle having a bar in the downtown area.
On Thursday, Thompson said that while it is now legal under city ordinance to open and operate a bar, tavern or nightclub that sells alcohol, those wanting to do so must first apply for a permit from State ABC Commission. Thompson said that state law requires the owner/operator to obtain a permit from the commission before they can open such an establishment.
In other business, council voted unanimously to approve first reading of an ordinance authorizing the appropriation of $100,408 from the city’s General Fund balance.
In recommending that the resolution be approved, Finance Director Walker Gallman pointed out that on Sept. 15, 2015, council approved a resolution authorizing the use of local funds to provide a match for a$500,000 grant for a Streetscape project on North Gadberry and North Pinckney streets. The amount of the local match was estimated at $58,705.
During the demolition process, however, Gallman said issues with drainage were discovered at the intersections of North Pinckney and Academy streets and at the parking lot off Academy Street. He said the cost to repair the drainage issues amounted to $41,703.
As a result, council was being asked to approve the ordinance authorizing an allocation from the General Fund balance totaling $100,408.
Earlier this month, Thompson announced that the City of Union and its Combined Utility System had received an A2 bond rating from Moody’s Investors Service. An A2 rating means that the entity that received it is rated as upper-medium grade and a low credit risk and has the best ability or high ability to repay short-term debt.
Thompson pointed out that in issuing the city this bond rating, Moody’s had assessed that the city’s financial position is expected to remain strong due to a combination of conservative budget management, sound liquidity and a limited debt burden. As for the utility system, Moody’s stated that its that financial flexibility was likely remain healthy because of conservative budgeting and strong rate setting policies together with a strong debt service coverage ratio and ample liquidity.
Thompson added that because of the A2 rating the city will receive $630,000 from the State Debt Service Reserve Fund which will go into the city’s coffers and which can be used to address the needs of the city and the utility department. He said the city, along with other South Carolina municipalities, pay into the fund and so the city will be getting back some of what it has paid into it over the years.
At its Tuesday meeting, council voted unanimously to allocate a total of $53,500 to pay Moody’s for the cost of preparing the bond rating presentation and review. The amount includes a one-time fee of $22,500 to the rating agency. The funds will be appropriated from the retained earning of the Utility Fund.
Council also voted unanimously to approve first reading of an ordinance transferring ownership of City Park to Union County.
In presenting the ordinance to council, Thompson said that during a special workshop on September 6 of this year council had a discussion concerning City Park. Thompson pointed out that the county has maintained the park for many, many years. He said the county has agreed to continue maintaining the portion of City Park that the ball field, parking area, concession area, and basketball court sit on. In turn, Thompson said the city has agreed to convey those areas to the county.
Council also voted unanimously to award bids totaling $138,876 to following companies for the following utility improvements:
• To Summit Engineering for $90,000 for the upgrade of the Meansville Road Pump Station and Force Main.
• To NTS/Siemens for $48,876 for the furnishing a 15 kV Vacuum Circuit Breaker and three 7.62 kV Voltage Regulators.
Charles Warner can be reached at 864-762-4090.