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City Council, March 19

Cigar bar move rejected
CWS to save $1.5 to $2 million on bond refinancings
Marc Knapp

Actual City-related business probably took up about 5 minutes of yesterday’s Council meeting. The meeting began promptly at 5pm but it took about 45 minutes to wade through the presentations and recognitions. And then there was another 20 minutes or so for Citizens’ Participation and another 20 minutes of a dreary staff presentation on the Horizon Development. And when we got down to real business, it was all over in a flash.

The real business was the Club Havana cigar bar. Council has deliberated on the issue for a number of meetings. And before it last night was another amendment to its No Smoking Ordinance that would have allowed the cigar bar to move to new premises. Council member Lewis moved for acceptance and was immediately seconded by Council member Moody. Some body called for the question, a vote was taken, and the motion failed, 5 to 7. Mayor Riley was amongst those who supported the motion.

There was no discussion of the proposed amendment. Maybe Council members thought that the issue has been discussed to death at previous meetings. But some members of the public again turned up to speak against the amendment. There were the predictable comments about the ill effects of smoking and the intent of the original City Ordinance. One speaker noted that Club Havana had been allowed to survive because it was locked into a long-term lease arrangement with its landlord and a closure at that time would have imposed a heavy financial burden on the owner. There should be no rewriting of the ordinance to compensate the cigar bar to for the loss of its lease, he said. The speaker also referred to convoluted language that had been constructed in the amendment to allow the bar to move to a new premise.

We agree that the language of the proposed amendment was convoluted. The final paragraph seems to have been written to apply to all cigar bars similar to Club Havana, yet there was only one cigar bar in existence - Club Havana. Readers can view the proposed amendment and make their own interpretation by pressing Download file.

The owner of Club Havana noted in Citizens’ Participation that he had been served an eviction notice. It made no difference to the majority of Council members. The original ordinance stands without an amendment. The Club Havana, legally, has no place to go in its existing form.

Council, meeting as the Ways and Means Committee earlier gave the nod to Charleston Water Services to refinance some of its outstanding bonds. Refinancing at this time of low interest rates, will allow a substantial reduction in the interest bill - possibly of the order of $1.5 to $2 million.

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