“Myrtle Beach Welcomes You!” the city’s new signs proclaim to drivers headed into Myrtle Beach. Installed in mid-August, they’re part of the ongoing effort by local leaders to put the Strand’s best foot forward in the hope of giving visitors a good first impression and leaving them with a good feeling about our area. It’s just one of multiple recent initiatives to spruce up our image. Tourists can also now enjoy a beautified Ocean Boulevard, explore a downtown area that’s becoming more attractive, and by the spring they will have a brand new airport terminal to fly into.
Unfortunately for tourism boosters, the folks who visit don’t pop straight into the resort-like and generally well-kept Ocean Boulevard area. Instead, most drive into town on U.S. 501. And you can put as much whipped cream as you want on a mud pie; it’ll still leave a bad taste in your mouth. The rundown, dilapidated entry to Myrtle Beach, the sight that greets most visitors, is simply ugly.
Lined with overgrown lots, decaying buildings and seamy businesses, the impression it gives is more inner city than vacation paradise. It’s not a new problem; the corridor has been an eyesore for years. But while residents may have grown to accept it as a fact of life on the Strand, it’s long past time to change that. And just maybe a solution is at last in the offing.
Historically, the biggest problem in trying to clean up the area has been the lack of continuity in zoning. The corridor is one of a number of areas throughout the city that’s full of doughnut holes, sections of property that fall outside of city limits and therefore outside of the city’s zoning ordinances. That, city spokesman Mark Kruea said Thursday, explains why property owners in the corridor have been able to open businesses that are not otherwise allowed in the area and others have been able to ignore city rules on keeping up their property.
In order to combat this issue and force property owners to comply with the same rules their neighbors must follow, the city has long been asking – “15 years maybe,” Kruea said – for permission from the county for extra-territorial zoning, which would give the city authority over the corridor and allow it to impose its stricter zoning laws on county property. Unfortunately, Kruea said, “that hasn’t received much traction.”
That lack of traction is for good reason. While the corridor does present Myrtle Beach visitors a monumentally ugly welcome mat, expanding Myrtle Beach’s zoning rules outside of city limits is not the best answer. County Councilman Marion Foxworth, whose district covers the U.S. 501 corridor, pointed out the problem Thursday that has kept the idea from moving forward:
“It’s regulation without representation. You would have people being regulated by a government they don’t vote for.”
Much as the city might like to be able to force the owners of abandoned sex shops to clean up their lots, Foxworth rightly points out that it would be wrong to compel those who don’t vote in the city to abide by its rules. Instead, two other, better solutions present themselves.
The first answer, a more sweeping and permanent change, would be to reform what Foxworth called our state’s “extremely archaic” annexation laws, to allow municipalities to annex properties they surround, whether the property owner wants to be annexed or not.
Kruea proposed the same idea, pointing out that such a change would be good not only for cities, but also for counties that would no longer have to provide the same level of public service as cities. “Why aren’t the counties demanding,” Kruea asked, “that South Carolina’s annexations laws be brought into, heck, even the last century would be good.”
Such a change – a needed one – would have to come from the legislature. And while it has been a priority of cities and the state’s Municipal Association, amending the law has not been a priority of state leaders, and it seems unlikely that it will be addressed in the near future. Which means an alternative solution to the patchwork of zoning along our own corridor of shame must be sought. That’s just what city and county leaders are doing.
As Foxworth explained, the city and county are in the process of bringing together a wide swath of city and county planning commission members and property owners from the U.S. 501 corridor, with the intent of sitting down and hashing out a plan that everybody can agree on, an overlay district that would be approved by both the city and the county to improve the look of Myrtle Beach’s front entrance.
As with all such plans, the devil will be in the details. City and county leaders will be pushing for stricter rules and property owners will be pushing back. Such efforts take time, and even after any regulations are passed they will take more time to enforce (and perhaps pursue in court). But it’s a good start. If a reasonable compromise can be agreed upon, just maybe the city can eventually have a main entrance to be proud of, or at least one that’s not quite so embarrassing.