Downtown bistro gets liquor license

Eatery once at center of Rock Hill jaywalking controversy

Liquor: 1. Jaywalking: 0.

That's the score in downtown Rock Hill seven months after a controversial jaywalking law was passed by City Council, in part to help restaurant owner Hall Dozier obtain a license to sell alcohol at his proposed Citizens Corner restaurant.

After initially being denied a liquor license because of its proximity to the Freedom Temple Ministries church, Citizens Corner in March was issued a license to sell beer and liquor, a S.C. Department of Revenue spokeswoman confirmed this week.

Meanwhile, police said Friday no jaywalking citations or related calls have been reported since the law was passed in September.

So, how did two seemingly unrelated issues become so intertwined?

Here's the recap:

State law says alcohol other than beer and wine cannot be served within 300 feet of a house of worship. When inspectors measured the distance from Citizens Corner's proposed site in the Citizens Bank building, at the corner of Main and Caldwell streets, to nearby Freedom Temple, the license was denied.

But city leaders, urged to act swiftly to aid Dozier in a memo from City Manager Carey Smith, passed a law banning jaywalking downtown. Then state officials were asked to measure again, this time following the new law that forbid them from measuring outside of the crosswalks.

The Department of Revenue spokeswoman this week confirmed the restaurant met all requirements the second time around.

Law criticized

The jaywalking law was criticized by some who claimed it was a back door attempt to aid economic development in downtown. Critics argued some city leaders were not forthcoming about their motivation for the law, when only public safety was cited during the first council vote.

Smith, however, said the law was a proactive measure for public safety. He said the law would eliminate pedestrians darting out from between parked cars while at the same time establishing a standard for measuring walking distances downtown.

But again, critics argued jaywalking was only a problem near Winthrop University, an area not covered by the new law.

"If we were concerned about jaywalking in Rock Hill, Oakland Avenue would be biggest place right now," City Councilman Kevin Sutton said in September. Sutton, along with Councilman Jim Reno, voted against the law.

Moving on

Both restaurant owner Hall Dozier and the critics of the law this week said they're ready to move on.

Dozier said he hopes to begin construction this month and his southern cuisine restaurant could be open late this summer. A bar/lounge in the basement may be delayed until after the restaurant gets on its feet, he said.

As far as the jaywalking saga, Dozier said he wished it wouldn't have become such a hot topic, but insists he's putting it behind him.

"We're ready to move on," said Dozier, who also owns Moe's Southwest Grill. "I just want to put that hurdle behind us and move on to the next one."

His neighbors are ready to move on, too.

Willie Lyles III, director of the neighboring Freedom Center, once a critic of the jaywalking law and the way it was presented, said he never was at odds with Dozier or his restaurant plans.

"We are always supporters of economic development in downtown Rock Hill," Lyles said Friday. "We want to welcome Mr. Dozier to downtown. And I, personally, hope to frequent his business."

Lyles said city leaders have listened to gripes about the jaywalking issue to his satisfaction. He said it's time for the focus to switch back to attracting more investment to downtown.

"I think we've aired our concerns and grievances with the city. They know how we feel," Lyles said. "We all want what's best for downtown. That's all in the past now."