New Businesses Pose Questions for Existing Regulations

By HunterMaclean Attorneys

Special to Business in Savannah

New businesses can often bring new challenges for the city. As Savannah’s star continues to rise, new enterprise will flow into the city, raising additional questions about precisely what is and is not allowed under existing regulations.

When a new craft brewery began operations in Savannah last year, the company raised a number of important questions about exactly what is and is not allowed under existing regulations.

The company wanted to offer brewery tours and beer tastings – provided for by state law but not addressed in our local ordinances. After engaging in a dialogue with the company and nearby residents, Savannah’s City Council amended its revenue ordinance in early September to provide that production breweries located within city limits may host tours and tastings. The amendment also established that the City would mirror state law with regards to breweries. These amended ordinances are good news for local microbreweries, but they reveal a deeper underlying issue that affects many new businesses in Savannah.

The City typically characterizes a business solely by its primary use. As shown by a production brewery that also provides tastings, not every type of business can be easily categorized as a single use within existing ordinances. Often times, government entities are forced to characterize new businesses as best they can within the current framework. Sometimes, however, these characterizations simply do not work, and neither government nor business benefits.

Other difficulties may arise for new businesses that sell inventory or use equipment that are undefined by local ordinances. Until fairly recently, Savannah did not have beer growlers available for purchase at grocery stores. Wine shops did not host events for patrons to sample their favorite pour. Tourists did not pedal around city squares on a Slow Ride. Now, however, our ordinances encompass these practices that were once quite new.

Business owners need to be careful not to make assumptions about how ordinances will or will not apply to them. The City of Savannah has specific guidelines regarding many issues that business owners may take for granted, from signage to sidewalk access to pouring requirements, among other regulations. Those guidelines are often in flux, so it is critical to stay on top of the latest compliance requirements, especially if your business is one unfamiliar to the City.

If you are thinking about opening a new business in Savannah, it is important to consult with City of Savannah staff as soon as possible, and they can generally guide you through the process.  It is advisable to schedule a meeting to determine any hurdles that may lie ahead and to develop a plan to overcome any challenges.

An attorney can assist as you navigate these waters, helping to get answers and serve as a liaison and an advocate as your approval process moves forward. All of these efforts can ensure that your business gets off to a strong and predictable start in Savannah.