By RUBEN LOWMAN
North Myrtle Beach City Council convened this week for their first meeting since holding a workshop on Jan. 18 that centered around regulating activities that take place on the beach during the summer.
During the nearly two-hour meeting held this Monday, Feb. 20, councilmembers unanimously passed several ordinances, including first reading of a few that go some ways to codifying a uniform policy for activities on the city’s nine-mile stretch of beach, both recreationally and commercially.
At the heart of the discussions is the city’s leaders attempting to formally place certain regulations on commercial activities that operate on the beach, which includes weddings, professional photography and businesses that offer surfing classes and lessons. Much of the provisions were originally outlined at the January workshop, along with prohibiting the use of bicycles on the beach between the hours of 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. during the summer months.
NMB Mayor Marilyn Hatley explained that as a result of questions that were raised by the public at the workshop, city leaders arranged for them to meet with the city manager and staff from the parks and recreation department to go over the details of the proposed ordinances. She said meetings were held between city officials, individuals and businesses that would be affected by the measures, as well as the NMB Chamber of Commerce.
“So they have had their meetings, and this is the outcome,” Hatley said.
“I believe there’s some changes that were made from good suggestions from those who are in the different businesses and I think they’ve all worked hard to bring this ordinance in front of us tonight.”
The “commercial activities” ordinance was passed unanimously by councilmembers on first reading and sets out a regulatory framework that businesses who operate on the beach will have to abide by going forward.
If the measure is passed when it comes up for second and final reading, all businesses and individuals that conduct recreational activities on the city’s beaches will have to get permits and business licenses. Certain businesses that operate “fitness related instructional activities and surf/paddleboard instructional activities” would also have to carry liability insurance of $1,000,000 that list the city as an additional insured party.
The measure states that “the purpose of the ordinance is to regulate and control commercial recreational activity occurring on, or originating from, the public beach so as to preserve the unique nature of the public beach and to protect all persons who utilize the beaches from harm, undue annoyance, disturbance and inconvenience.”
“Professional photography, weddings, filming and special events occurring on the public beach” will have to receive a permit from either city council or parks and recreation and approved by the city manager, city documents state.
Hatley and councilmembers Bubba Collins and J.O. Baldwin explained that the goal of the measures was not to inhibit businesses, but the city’s growth and the volume of visitors during the summer months is making it difficult to know what is occurring on the public beaches, which can lead to issues occurring.
“The last thing we want to do is hurt our small businesses,” Collins said.
“I don’t want this to be perceived that we’re trying to control or harm anyone’s business. We’re just getting so busy on the beach that we need to know who, where and when things are happening, and it’s not meant to hurt businesses.”
Baldwin said that city leaders want to protect small businesses and creating a uniform regulatory framework is one way of ensuring that happens. City manager Mike Mahaney said that the city needs to know who, where, when and what is going on on the beach before it occurs, not after.
City officials stated that the permitting process will begin this year upon approval of second reading, but the individuals and businesses affected would not have to pay permit fees until 2024. The permits would be in effect for the entire year, weddings and special events excepted. The fees for each permitted business would differ based on its size, states Baldwin.
A few owners of wedding and photography businesses spoke at the meeting, as well, highlighting that they would like to see a few details of the measure altered before it goes forward.
Myrtle Beach Wedding Officiant Eric Hunt said that he would like to see the measure exclude small weddings, those that are less than five people in total, which he said make up a sizable percentage of the total that he conducts throughout the summer. He said that much of the weddings he officiates are simple beach weddings that consist of him and the couple exchanging their vows.
Hunt said that larger weddings that include equipment, chairs, decorations and arches are fine to charge permit fees, but the smaller ceremonies should still be allowed without a permit.
“Those of us who conduct services professionally on the beach are not opposed to ordinance. We are not opposed to regulation,” Hunt said. “We actually welcome that, it protects our greatest asset which is our beautiful beach. That’s why we all want to live here, that’s why our 20 million-plus visitors want to be here every year. So we are not opposed to ordinance.”
Neighboring municipalities already either regulate commercial activity on their beaches or prohibit them altogether. Myrtle Beach does not permit commercial activity on its beaches and the unincorporated beaches of Horry County require a permit. NMB Councilmember Nikki Fontana explained that the city is attempting to control some of the chaos that occurs during the summer while still ensuring that these activities can continue.
In addition to the activities ordinances, alterations were made to the Prince Resort PDD and the Bahama Island PDD. The Prince Resort PDD, which will see a Hampton Inn & Suites built in front of the Cherry Grove Fishing Pier, was approved on second reading. The Bahama Island PDD was approved on first reading and proposes for the second phase of the development agreement to be changed to create the Long Bay RV Resort.
The next regularly scheduled council meeting will be held on Monday, March 6, at 7 p.m.