North Myrtle Beach is seeing tremendous growth, which is seen as a blessing by most candidates running for the city’s elected offices, but it comes with some concerns.
The growth is mainly on the west side of the Intracoastal Waterway, where the city has annexed 1,600 acres. The new North Myrtle Beach Park and Sports Complex, set to open March 1, is at the heart of this new community, situated on 160 acres off Robert Edge Parkway near S.C. 31.
“I think the complex benefits our community in a lot of ways,” said Mayor Marilyn Hatley, who is running for a fourth term as mayor. “We will be able to provide greater recreational opportunities for our citizens, but we’re also helping to grow sports tourism for our shoulder seasons.”
The new venue will include a 27-acre lake, six baseball-softball fields, up to eight soccer-football-lacrosse fields, an amphitheater, playgrounds, a 1-acre dog park and picnic shelters, along with a Veterans Plaza with a gathering area and a multi-purpose trail. There are 60 events already scheduled for the complex, and shopping outlets will follow in the area, which Hatley and other candidates say will ensure year-round jobs for residents.
Tom Powell, one of four candidates running for city council from the Windy Hill ward, said that area and others in the city would be good for attracting big-box stores, like Sam’s Club and Costco, which he thinks would be very successful, especially with N.C. shoppers, who regularly travel farther south to Myrtle Beach to shop at those stores and to buy less-expensive gas, he said.
Mayoral candidate Louis Palm said he would like to see a research and development facility built on some of the city’s land in that area and for the area’s colleges to establish outposts in North Myrtle Beach, whether on the west side or in available spaces already in the city. He said he expects most of the growth to take place in the Barefoot Resort area, and that it’s critical that a council position is added for that ward.
Year-round traffic was a big concern for several of the candidates, including Palm and Powell.
Powell said several years ago, developers were talking about bringing in 9,000 dwelling units – larger than Barefoot Resort – and 4 million square feet of commercial space to land the city has annexed.
“That’s going to be a lot of traffic, and people in Barefoot are concerned,” he said, especially about travelers cutting through their neighborhood to get to Barefoot Landing. “That’s something I’m going to be watching closely.”
That sentiment was echoed by Brian Scott, another Windy Hill council candidate, who said Barefoot already has trouble with trucks cutting through the neighborhood.
“I’m sure that area [west of the waterway] will look like Carolina Forest in 10 years, and they need to plan what the traffic’s going to be,” he said.
Councilman Robert Cavanaugh, the incumbent for the city council’s at-large seat, said he doesn’t think there will be 9,000 units built, but that it will be a large number, and the city must have other transportation capabilities in addition to S.C. 31.
“As we grow across the Intracoastal Waterway, it is important that the parkway on the west side of the waterway is completed between [Robert] Edge Parkway and Water Tower Road,” Cavanaugh said. “Politically, Interstate 73 and Interstate 74 are both important for our logical growth. That’s something that we have to encourage other people to do and then plan with or without it, but those roads have got to be in.”
Traffic also must be monitored in other areas of the city, such as the Little River Neck Road area, which are growing and need proper zoning and traffic flow, Powell said. Other projects in Horry County also could affect traffic, he said, such as land that is being cleared at Water Tower Road near Long Bay Road.
“I give our city council a lot of credit, though; they are not doing their job haphazardly,” said Powell, adding that they are keeping pace with issues that are constantly changing.
Hatley said the city has been careful to put in roads, and that eventually, there will be a parkway on the west side, similar to Myrtle Beach’s Robert Grissom Parkway. One mile of it is already complete - Champions Boulevard at the entrance to the sports complex and will run to Water Tower Road. The final route between Long Bay Road and Water Tower Road has not been determined. When the city annexed the land, she said easements also were secured so the state would not have to purchase the property and slow down the process.
Growth must be handled responsibly, but it has no down sides, as any traffic problems can be fixed, said Nikki Fontana, a candidate for the Windy Hill council seat.
“It’s only going to bring more people to the north end, and that’s what we need,” she said. “It’s good for our economy, and it will have a trickle-down effect to people like me [who own small businesses].”
Local businesses are one of the top concerns for Steve Schulin, a candidate for the Windy Hill council seat, who said the city needs to do more to encourage entrepreneurs.
“One of the areas I emphasize is the broadening of our economy, and we can build on the city’s recent designation by Google,” said Schulin, referring to the city’s award as the state’s first eCity because of the way its businesses use the Internet.
The business licensee structure needs to be changed to encourage those people who are starting companies on their own, he said. The current system requires anyone to pay a business license fee, which he said at $60 is too much for someone working out of their home.
“Young people with good skills would come here for the same reason tourists come here, and would find it as much a paradise as I do,” Schulin said.
Balancing the needs of businesses and tourists with those of residents, especially those who are retired, is another area that needs to be improved, said Palm, who said the family-friendly atmosphere the city is known for is not being maintained.
“This is a big issue with locals,” he said. “We have ordinances, but during the summer, they are not enforced. They are enforced more with the residents in the winter.”
Some of the ordinances deal with fireworks, the operation of golf carts and grass height, which is an issue especially when second-home owners don’t maintain their property, Fontana said. Still, she said the city is doing its best, and no one wants to make tourists angry.
Scott said he would like to see enforcement of a tree ordinance, which only allows trees to be cut when in the way of building. He said there are contractors who are clear-cutting trees on properties, including a lot next to his own, which is ruining the landscape, and he compared the city to Mount Pleasant, where trees have been left along U.S. 17 for a natural shield between the highway and businesses.
Most candidates, however, are focused on the good points of the city, which also is one of the top-two locations for wind energy in the state.
“What we are trying to do in North Myrtle Beach is to encourage young professionals and families to relocate in our area and have a sense of community,” Hatley said. “[The new complex] has just opened so many doors to offer variety for our citizens, and I think we will find it will improve the quality of life for everyone.”
Mayoral candidate Gary Stephens and Terry White, incumbent for city council’s Ocean Drive ward, were unavailable to comment for this story.
Contact VICKI GROOMS at 443-2401 or follow her at Twitter.com/TSN_VickiGrooms.