Aug 29, 2023 - News

Charlotte hardly enforces open container laws ahead of potential social district vote

social district birkdale

social district birkdale Photo: Alexandria Sands/Axios

Over the past two years, as the city of Charlotte debated establishing a district where people can carry alcoholic drinks legally, only a few offenders received tickets for open containers.

  • The eight years prior, from 2012 to 2020, the rate of open container citations annually was in the double digits, according to data from the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department.

Driving the news: The City of Charlotte may be close to establishing its first social district — a designated area where people can openly carry alcoholic drinks on the street.

  • It’s been a long time coming. Both big and small North Carolina cities have already established such districts, which are intended to increase foot traffic, especially for businesses that suffered during the pandemic.
  • The city of Charlotte took months to outline guidelines and also created a lengthy application process that requires organizers to collect signatures from at least 51% of property owners in the district.
open container
Data: Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department; Chart: Axios Visuals

By the numbers: Charlotte-Mecklenburg police officers issued nine citations for open containers in the first seven months of 2023. The numbers have dropped since 2020, as has police enforcement for other violations such as running red lights.

  • Pre-pandemic, the number of citations per year hovered around 30. 2014 was an outlier year with 80 citations, double the prior and following years’ totals.

Why it matters: People are already openly drinking on the street, especially during large sporting events in Uptown or late at night in South End. But the data suggests scarce enforcement in a city of more than 800,000 people.

  • “We already have this de facto existence of social district,” Russell Fergusson, a member of the Plaza Midwood Merchants Association, told Axios last year.
  • The merchants association is close to finalizing a formal social district application. It’s been spreading the word to Plaza Midwood residents, garnering signatures and attempting to ease any concerns that it would invite ruckus to the area.

Yes, but: Could the number of open container violators increase if eager drinkers go beyond the boundaries of a social district? Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police declined to comment about its data or on social districts for this story.

  • Of note: It’s also unclear how many of the citations may have been given to passengers in cars.

The latest: Plaza Midwood could have its first social district by this winter if the association’s application earns city council approval. So far no city leaders have voiced strong opposition.

  • The social district would stretch along Central Avenue, from Two Scoops Creamery to Morningside Drive. It would include parts of Thomas Avenue, The Plaza and Pecan Avenue, including where Cheat’s Cheesesteak Parlor is.

Zoom out: Stakeholders in South End and Uptown are considering creating one or multiple social districts. Charlotte Center City Partners is doing planning and engagement work ahead of submitting a formal application.

  • Huntersville is discussing a potential second social district in its downtown. It needs to consider the proximity to an elementary school and public park. Birkdale is the town’s first social district.
  • Raleigh recently expanded its social district to incorporate more of downtown. It’s used the open container law to try to revive foot traffic.
  • Even Asheboro, which didn’t permit alcohol sales until 2008, has a social district.

[Go deeper: Charlotte trails other cities in allowing drinking in the streets in ‘social districts’]

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