By Ruben Lowman
North Myrtle Beach City Council gave final approval to its plans for improvements made at the Cherry Grove Park and Boat Landing, but they face a lawsuit from one of the companies affected by the alterations.
While city manager Mike Mahaney previously said that the most recent ordinance passed was simply a “housekeeping” measure, there was a contentious hours- long discussion that took place before it was approved on first reading. There was little debate amongst council upon second reading and was passed unanimously, allowing commercial activity to occur at the city’s parks and public facilities.
At the crux of the issue is the manner in which the regulations and fee have been carried out by the city, which the kayak companies feel places fees and restrictions on their businesses that may eventually see them have to shut down because of the costs. The regulations place a limitation on the number of companies that can operate tours out of the boat ramp in Cherry Grove, as well as the amount of people each company can take out on a single tour.
Additionally, they will be required to pay a flat 10 percent fee on all gross revenue that is generated out of the boat ramp. Initially, city officials had proposed a 7 percent fee before it was increased to 10 percent with little discussion from city leaders.
Wyatt Todd, owner of Kokopelli Surf Camp, Paddleboard and Kayak Tours, said, “It’s not fair to charge a disproportionate fee to kayak businesses.”
The Times previously exclusively reported on Todd and his company’s frustrations with the city’s new ordinances geared to place limitations on the kayak companies operating out of the boat ramp. Last week, Todd filed a lawsuit against the city and the ordinances.
Todd told The Times he felt the city was attempting to shut the kayak companies down, as the fees and the regulations are too much for the small businesses to cope with. Todd, along with owners of other companies, have said that they made not be able to operate their businesses past this summer with the new 10 percent fee.
Much of the larger discussion around the boat ramp is related to the increased congestion that has taken place over the last several years as the city and the surrounding areas have grown in population. Todd said that in terms of the fee, the majority of the homes in Cherry Grove are operated as retrial properties and open up to the salt marsh via their private docks in their backyards.
Boaters, residents and fishermen made complaints to the city about the kayak companies and solutions began to be looked at by city officials. Todd said that the kayak companies have registered complaints about boaters and fishermen, in particular. He said that boaters have routinely attempted to knock him from his kayak and paddleboard with their wakes, and fishermen have threateningly cast their reels intentionally towards him.
According to the lawsuit, the boat landing is the only safe area to enter the public waters of the Cherry Grove Salt Marsh and “this salt marsh is the only safe area to kayak within North Myrtle Beach.” As a result, it states that the entirety of Kokopelli’s business must de done through the boat landing. The new ordinances are essentially “business killing legislation”, according to the lawsuit, as they do not address the congestion issues and they allow the city broad taxing authority.
“This contract is catastrophic for Plaintiff’s business on a number of levels,” states the lawsuit.
Additionally, Kokopelli states in the lawsuit that “this amendment enables Defendant to selectively pick the winners and losers with regard to local businesses operating in the area.” The suit is asking for an injunction given that can preserve the company’s legal rights as the case works its way through court. North Myrtle Beach officials said the city’s policy is to withhold comment while legal cases are pending.
Mahaney said that the city will ultimately end up spending around $400,000 for infrastructure to the park and boat landing, which will include a second boat ramp for commercial activity, increased parking and greater access to the facilities for the public.
The second ramp for businesses such as the kayaks will only take up around $40,000 of that, Mayor Marilyn Hatley said, and the parking will now move to $2 for all vehicles that use the landing, not just the kayak companies. She also said that the ordinance will apply to all public facilities.
In other council news, the city also held a workshop this Wednesday, May 11, regarding the annexation and zoning of a 80-plus acre parcel near Coates Road.