Opinion Columns & Blogs

Special favors for some?

From a public relations viewpoint, the best thing for Rock Hill city government right now would be for someone to be hit by a car while jaywalking downtown. Nothing fatal, mind you, just enough to vindicate the City Council's vote last week to make jaywalking illegal.

Newcomers might wonder why the city is on the hot seat. In cities like New York, jaywalkers face greater threats than a cop waving a ticket book; jaywalkers can -- and frequently do -- get killed

This niffnaw centers less on the law's merits than on the city's motive in assisting an entrepreneur to open a restaurant in the old Citizens Bank building, at Main and Caldwell streets.

By requiring people to use a crosswalk, the new law would increase the distance a pedestrian would trek from that location to Freedom Temple. In theory anyway, the city is helping the restaurant owner circumvent a state law prohibiting the sale of liquor within 300 feet of a church.

Some critics, most notably City Councilman Kevin Sutton and Freedom Temple Pastor Herb Crump, have criticized the city administration for being less than forthright about the "real" reason for declaring war on jaywalkers. Herald reporters have raised similar questions in recent days.

On the contrary, not only don't I blame City Council, but also I would go so far as to say it would have been derelict to do otherwise.

Scoff if you will, but crossing Main Street in downtown Rock Hill has become a risky venture. Ever since the roof came off TownCenter Mall and Main Street was reopened, during the mid-1990s, traffic has steadily increased in the city's historic commercial center.

Main Street is part of S.C. 5, a principal east/west connector in York County, and drivers often fail to look for pedestrians who might step from between parked cars. With the recent addition of nearly 200 Williams & Fudge employees downtown -- and the likelihood of another office of that size coming soon -- downtown foot traffic can be expected to escalate. And that doesn't count the potential of several hundred families moving into either of two large rental complexes under construction a few blocks away. The city had better encourage these newcomers to walk because there aren't enough parking spaces to accommodate all their personal vehicles downtown.

Having nearly been hit myself on more than one occasion, I simply ask the city to exert as much effort in ticketing speeders on Main Street as it does nailing jaywalkers.

Small potatoes

But what if the city's ulterior purpose in passing an anti-jaywalking ordinance was to pave the way for a restaurant? What's so bad about that?

Given the millions the city has funneled -- or plans to funnel -- into improved infrastructure, tax breaks and other incentives to entice private investment downtown, an anti-jaywalker law seems like small enough potatoes.

The real villain is an antiquated state law that withholds liquor permits from businesses situated within a football-field distance of a house of worship. The law is a holdover from the days when preachers were incensed because saloon keepers enticed potential members of their flock with Demon Rum.

As with South Carolina's long-maligned blue laws, reasons for the prohibition are lost in history, but that doesn't mean it can be changed in the foreseeable future. Sure, the city could ask the General Assembly to repeal the law, but two things that body never has been noted for are common sense and acting in timely fashion.

In the meantime, it might be best for everyone to accept that downtown Rock Hill is big enough for both churches and food establishments that sell alcohol.

Otherwise some restaurant owners may ask City Council to address the threat posed to pedestrians by church-goers' double-parking on the Lord's Day. Why is it, they may ask, some downtown streets are posted with signs that state, "No Parking Except on Sunday"?

Councilman Sutton may to want to recommend to his colleagues that they revoke a policy that grants such favors to some groups but not others.

Some of those signs can be found on Oakland Avenue, next to Freedom Temple's parking lot.