Town code change aligns alcohol sales law with state rules

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It will soon be officially illegal to sell or consume alcoholic beverages of any kind between 2 and 6 a.m. in businesses within the Town of Bluffton's jurisdiction.

The town's ordinance relating to the consumption and sale of alcoholic beverages - Chapter 18, Article IX - is among a number of town code articles that went under review by the staff.

The proposed amendments were presented in a first reading in February. Changes were then made that brought the article into alignment with the South Carolina Beverage Control Act, requiring a re-introduction to council. The ordinance received its second "first reading" at the March 10 council meeting.

The article was one of several concerning public conduct presented by Bluffton Police Chief Joey Reynolds, whose officers have to deal with intoxicated individuals, drivers and disorderly conduct.

"During the past month, we've had a lot of discussions with local restaurant owners and they are in agreement with 2 a.m. as the end of sales," Reynolds said.

Reynolds said that law enforcement generally holds the establishment responsible for controlling alcohol past 2 a.m.

With the clarification and a number of penalties in store for those businesses and individuals who do not obey the law, there might be a decrease in accidents and incidents that police and other first responders must handle when alcohol is involved.

In 2014 there were 67 DUIs, a 91 percent increase over the 35 DUI arrests made in 2013, according to police Lt. Joseph Babkiewicz, the department's spokesman. There were six traffic accidents where alcohol was a contributing factor in the crashes, and one accident resulted in injuries.

Along with stopping individuals who are driving under the influence of alcohol, the police also respond to incidents involving public disorderly conduct. That, too, has increased significantly in the past year.

That doesn't necessarily mean consumers are being rowdier.

"The increase is because bar owners and employees are more aware that they should call us if a patron begins to act disorderly," Babkiewicz said.

He noted that there was an increase in 2014 of 187 percent - 68 calls - over the previous year and alcohol was a major factor in 37 of them.

The new code affects some establishments more than others.

Capt. Woody's Seafood Restaurant on the Promenade is open until 10 p.m. downstairs. Upstairs is open later.

"This is probably not going to affect us much," said manager Chris Urban. "The restaurant and kitchen downstairs close at 10, the upstairs bar generally closes by midnight. I don't see it having a huge impact on us directly."

Lakesha Daley, co-owner of Red Stripes Caribbean Cuisine and Lounge on Pin Oak, thinks the hours are fair. Her business stays open until 10 p.m. with midnight closings on Friday and Saturday.

"I don't think it will be too much of an issue. This is a family-oriented place with a lot of neighborhoods, a mixed community with houses, restaurants," Daley said. "It keeps it kind of safe with that ordinance so people can get home and do whatever they need to for the next day."

With St. Patrick's Day one of the biggest holidays where alcohol is often an issue, police and other public safety organizations will be out in force, encouraging designated drivers and moderation. For those who forget to use both, there is always the Yellow Cab Company.

"Every year we get a big demand for people going over to Savannah for the weekend and the day itself. We take people to the convention center, and at much less of a cost because they go in groups," said Tom Heyward, manager.

"We always have extra people on call for an event like this and we're available 24 hours a day every day."

Gwyneth J. Saunders is a veteran journalist and freelance writer living in Bluffton.

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