Belhaven council discusses adding a social district

Published 12:18 pm Tuesday, August 15, 2023

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Belhaven may be the next town in Belhaven to add a social district to its downtown area. 

Town Manager Lynn Davis proposed the idea at town council’s regular meeting on Monday evening (Aug. 14) gauging council members’ interest in possibly adding a social district to downtown. Council did not take a vote on adding a social district. Instead, they will have a public hearing on it at their next meeting which is September 11. 

In a social district, a person can purchase and consume an alcoholic beverage within a confined area during scheduled days and times. The purpose of social districts is to encourage patrons to shop from participating small businesses as they sip. 

In Davis’ proposal, the social district could include portions of East Main, East Pungo, Pamlico Street, Allen Street and Haslin Street. 

According to Davis and Mayor Ricky Credle, when most businesses in Belhaven were surveyed weeks ago on whether to implement a social district, 100% of them agreed that it would be a good thing for the town, even ones who said they may not participate in it. 

“Probably for the first time in the history of Belhaven we had 100% of businesses say yes they thought it was a good idea for Belhaven,” Davis said. “Even businesses that said ‘I’m probably not going to participate, but I think it would be good for our town.” 

Davis and Credle believe a social district would be a “a positive and great” addition to downtown Belhaven. “I think it would be great for our community,” Credle said. 

Councilman Ricky Radcliffe shared he could see the pros and cons of social districts. While downtown businesses may benefit from a social district, his primary concerns are safety and enforcement of the rules by the police department. 

Sharing what he learned about social districts at a recent conference, Credle responded saying cities in North Carolina such as Greensboro and Asheville, experienced “no issues” directly related to a social district. He also noted how those cities have a stronger police presence compared to Belhaven. 

Social districts are popping up across the state after the North Carolina General Assembly passed House Bill 890 allowing city and town governments to create social districts. The bill was signed into law in September of 2021. As of February 2023, there are 18 social districts in the state, according to Business North Carolina. 

Last December, Washington’s city council voted 3-2 in favor of adding a social district. It went into effect on May 4 at 5 p.m. and covers portions of Main Street, North Market Street and some of Water Street near the waterfront.