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McClatchy-Tribune  07/07/2014 12:01 AM ET
Downtown Beaufort bar seeks noise ordinance waiver for Water Festival [The Island Packet (Hilton Head Island, S.C.) :: ]

July 07--When complaints prompted police to crack down on late-night noise in downtown Beaufort, most bars and restaurants complied by turning down the music.

But Paul Thompson, owner of Panini's on the Waterfront, wants City Council to relax the rules for the 10 days of the Beaufort Water Festival, from July 18 to 27.

"Obviously, most of the events don't end until 11 o'clock at night and the noise ordinance during the week (starts at) 10 o'clock at night," he said. "So that basically means we wouldn't be able to open the bar at all or have entertainment after the (festival) entertainment stops, and that represents a substantial amount of revenue."

Thompson's request will be considered Tuesday by City Council. According to a letter to the city, Thompson wants the ordinance waived until 2 a.m. every day except Sunday. He said last week he would like the waiver to apply to all the businesses downtown.

The noise ordinance restricts loud music or noise between 1 and 7 a.m. seven days a week, and between 10 p.m. and 1 a.m. Sunday through Thursday.

At their discretion or when a complaint is made, police officers can monitor noise with a meter, Cpl. Hope Able said.

COMPLAINTS, POLICE INVOLVEMENT

Noise concerns came to a head in March, after some residents and business owners complained to City Council, which discussed changes to the ordinance but took no action.

Since the beginning of the year, 20 noise complaints have been made in the downtown district, Able said. None resulted in citations. In each case, employees turned down music after receiving a warning from police, according to the reports.

Of those reports, 13 were about noise from bars and patrons, and eight were made by either John North or someone on the third floor of the Regions Bank building, where North has an apartment.

Two reports, dated March 29 and July 1, contain allegations that someone poured water or another liquid from the third floor of the Regions Bank building onto people on the ground outside the bars. No charges were filed.

According to the report from the March 29 incident, which occurred at 1 a.m. North said his wife had been using a garden hose to scare off pigeons.

No one was struck by water during the July 1 incident, according to the report. The complainant said ice water was thrown at least three times from an upper floor of the Regions Bank building, onto the patio area by Hemingway's Bistro next door. North said, via email, that the couple has been out of the country for the last three weeks and no one has had access to the third floor.

WATER FESTIVAL WAIVER

Thompson said that based on previous Water Festivals, his business and others like it stand to lose five-figure amounts -- money that provides a "cushion" during slower times of the year.

Also, his employees make about 50 percent more during the festival, with a bartender pulling in an average of $200 to $250 per night and a server between $150 and $200.

Chip Dinkins, director of operations for Plums and Saltus River Grill, said he would like City Council to approve a waiver for all the businesses. He sees "a solid increase in nighttime revenues," during the festival, although the amount varies by day and the festival's entertainment schedule.

"If Water Festival is doing what it does, and it's bringing in a solid crowd, they don't always want to leave at 11," he said.

In past years, he's booked bands to perform on some nights but has not done so this year because the ordinance is being strictly enforced. Dinkins said he's willing to live with the rules, which he helped write, but a waiver would be appreciated.

"We should be there to provide the entertainment for the folks of Beaufort County," he said. "We're the downtown music district. We should be able to provide them with a reprieve, a chance to blow off steam after working hard."

Mayor Billy Keyserling said he's withholding comment on whether he would support a waiver until hearing more from business owners, downtown residents and staff during the meeting Tuesday.

Beaufort Regional Chamber of Commerce spokeswoman Jaime Dailey-Vergara said the organization does not keep statistics related to bar and restaurant sales during Water Festival, "but what we do know is the Beaufort Water Festival has proven to be a huge economic driver for our area."

North said, via email, that he does not object to special events downtown.

"However, regular use of loudspeakers disrupting the area until 1:00 a.m. is not compatible with downtown residential living, which is what every study shows is needed to make the downtown vibrant and successful," he wrote. "The economic engine of Beaufort cannot be based on bikers and jello shots. That economy has been in place for a very long time and something better is obviously needed."

Follow reporter Erin Moody at twitter.com/IPBG_Erin.

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