Myrtle Beach City Council couldn’t decide Tuesday what it wanted to do about beach tents, but Horry County Council said it is gearing up for a vote toban them either altogether year round or just from Memorial Day to Labor Day.
It’s crunch time for both jurisdictions to decide what they want to do about the canopy-style tents, which law enforcement officials have said obstruct their view on the beach, and their path when emergencies occur on the ocean.
Two votes by the Myrtle Beach City Council failed Tuesday on the question of whether to ban the beach tents altogether or to ban them with the exception of residential areas along the beach.. The failed votes force the city to take the issue up at its meeting in two weeks.
Myrtle Beach Councilman Mike Lowder said he was able to support a complete ban on the tents, but not one that is restricted to certain areas.
“I truly believe that picking and choosing areas of the beach of where you’re going to ban tents and allow tents is going to cause confusion, No. 1,” Lowder said. “No. 2, I truly believe that if you ban tents in one area and folks find out that an area over here, you can go and put up tents, that this area is going to be overrun and flooded with folks on the beach to start with and an unbelievable amount of tents at the same time.”
Councilman Philip Render also opposed banning the tents in certain areas and said he thinks it could cause trouble for law enforcement.
“My concern is the enforcement issue,” he said. “I just think we’re imposing our law enforcement with a difficult scenario here that, at times, can be confusing not only for our guests, but for all parties concerned.”
Coastal communities have been trying to reach a consensus to provide continuity among the beach on the tent issue, as requested by the Coastal Alliance. North Myrtle Beach already has passed first reading of an ordinance to ban the tents from Memorial Day to Labor Day. It needs two additional readings to be final.
Horry County talked about the issue, as well, at a special meeting Tuesday.
Council Chairman Mark Lazarus asked County Attorney Arrigo Carotti to draft two ordinances for the county council to consider at its March 11 meeting. One ordinance would ban the tents year round and the other would follow suit with North Myrtle Beach and ban them between the holidays.
Paul Whitten, assistant county administrator for public safety, told the council that he recommends the county ban the tents along its 14 miles of shore, but didn’t specify how long a ban.
“The bottom line is from a public safety perspective, beach tents/canopies degrade our ability to provide a safe environment on Horry County beaches,” Whitten said. “Because there are so many of them, It takes away from law enforcement’s ability to do their regular work on the beach.”
Police Chief Saundra Rhodes said there were 3,800 tent violations in 2013, which can take at least 15 minutes to work with people by explaining the current ordinance, which outlines where the tents can be placed. Rhodes called it “by far” the most time consuming issue for the Beach Patrol.
“The biggest thing is it is definitely a distraction for some of our officers,” Rhodes said, adding the county does not want to be the only one that allows tents. “If the other beaches ban tents and we don’t, we’re going to be filled with tents in our section.”
County Councilman Bob Grabowski said he wanted to make sure the police department knows what it is getting itself into if the county decides to ban the tents.
“You do realize that if we do this, you’re going to get the brunt of the problem because they’re going to be ticked off because they didn’t know...” Grabowski said. “It’s going to be a painful couple of years.”
Lt. Mark Bonner said he has worked the Beach Patrol for more than a decade and he knows there will be some unhappy patrons if the ban is approved.
“We’re also going to have the same number of people who are awfully happy that we’ve done this for them,” Bonner said.
Chairman Lazarus said it’s imperative to listen to the county officials who deal with the tents on a daily basis.
“This is a public safety issue,” Lazarus said. “I can tell you we’ve been put on notice that this is a public safety issue. And next year, if we have one child that goes missing or we have one person who has a heart attack or something happens, and we can’t get to them with our public safety officials, we haven’t done our job.”
Contact JASON M. RODRIGUEZ at 626-0301 or follow him at Twitter.com/TSN_jrodriguez.