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In addition to a proposal setting a 3 a.m. last call for alcohol, Hilton Head Island is moving forward with legislation allowing the town to shut down nuisance bars.
Both measures were spurred by escalating violence at south-end bars over the past year or so, culminating with two New Year's Day shootings at the now-defunct Club Life in Heritage Plaza. Town Council is expected to vote on the measures next month.
"We're going to present a public nuisance law that has teeth," said town attorney Brian Hulbert. "The intent of this ordinance is to let people know that Town Council means business."
The proposal would set up criteria for when a bar becomes a nuisance.
Businesses with three or more serious incidents over a six-month period or four or more during in a year could be declared nuisances. A serious incident is defined as assault, assault and battery, aggravated assault or other violations which could injure a person.
"It's got to be a very substantial, egregious violation," said Councilman John Safay. "This should not affect any reasonably well-run business."
For the process to begin, law enforcement officials would present information about a bar to the town manager. The town manager then could declare the business a nuisance and require the owner or landlord to fix the problem within 30 days. Potential remedies include hiring private security, removing debris or improving lighting.
When a business already has been declared a nuisance and another serious incident occurs within a year or if the business owner takes no steps to fix the problem, the town manager then can order the business to eliminate the nuisance within 15 days.
If the property or business owners disagree with the nuisance determination, they can appeal within 10 days to Town Council. If still not satisfied, they can appeal to Circuit Court.
At any point in the process, the town manager can suspend the business license, automatically triggering a revocation hearing before Town Council.
During a Public Safety Committee meeting Monday, several members of Town Council said they also want to consider repeated noise violations a nuisance after a dozen or so residents of a south island RV park complained of excessive noise from Prana International, a nightclub in the former location of Club Paradise on Arrow Road.
The club has been cited for nine noise violations since opening last year and has requested jury trials for all but one of them, prolonging the legal process, said Capt. Toby McSwain of the Beaufort County Sheriff's Office.
Sheriff P.J. Tanner called both of the town's proposals a "good start," although he still recommends closing bars at 2 a.m., when state law cuts off liquor sales. Bars and restaurants currently are allowed to serve beer and wine after that.
As a compromise with bar owners, Mayor Tom Peeples proposed the 3 a.m. closing time so food and beverage workers still will have some time after work to go to a bar.
"If we find down the road there's too much activity at that time, they can make an amendment to change it," Tanner said.
Tanner plans to ask the county to set a uniform last-call time and also will push for nuisance ordinances in other municipalities in the county.
Bar owners seem to be on board with the nuisance law, but many are concerned that closing earlier will cut into their bottom line.
"We, along with many of our fellow restaurateurs, are having a lot of difficulty staying afloat in these difficult times," said Bob Hinchey, owner of Hinchey's Chicago Bar & Grill, which stays open later than 2 a.m. a few times a week.