In Hilton Head Island's formative years in the late 1980s, it made sense to limit where liquor stores could locate.
Early town leaders and residents wanted to create an upscale, yet understated, tourism destination for families and nature lovers -- not a party spot for loud and boozy spring breakers. The liquor store rule, along with many other restrictions, provided the successful road map for the look and feel of the town we know today.
Fast forward to 2014. The majority of the island has been developed, and a preponderance of liquor stores is no longer an issue. With 13 already operating, it's hard to imagine there's room for many more. Additionally, state law limits ownership to three stores per owner.
Now is a good time to let liquor stores compete for business in the same manner as other businesses do, free of governmental intervention that is no longer needed.
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And yet, Town Council has indicated that it will reject a change in town code to eliminate the liquor store restriction that keeps any store from setting up within 500 feet of a property that features another such store. Council's reason: Many residents reached out to express their disapproval for the change.
"For me it was simply that I heard from a lot of people on it, and it seemed pretty clear that most people wanted to keep it as it was," said Mayor Drew Laughlin.
While it's good to see Town Council listening to constituents, we fail to see how the decision meets the town's goal of eliminating red tape and burdensome rules that stymie development and redevelopment.
The town is updating its land-use management plan to encourage new businesses to locate here, to convince existing businesses to update and to keep tourism dollars flowing. Failure to delete the liquor store rule makes us wonder what other antiquated rules will ultimately remain on the books -- and how that will impact the redevelopment focus necessary for the island's continued success.
The liquor store restriction is additionally offensive as it offers a protective carve-out for liquor retailers that other businesses are not given. Certainly doctors' offices, grocery stores and gas stations might like the same type of protection. But they don't have it because we trust the marketplace to work. Liquor stores in 2014 shouldn't have it either.
Town leaders say they want to delete limits on the free market. Unfortunately, this decision runs counter to that stated goal.
As Town Council mulls other changes to its land-use management plan, we hope the decision to keep this one outdated rule on the books is an anomaly, not the norm.