February 11, 2013

Helicopter Adventures legal battle in Myrtle Beach area headed back to court this week

The ongoing legal battle that could put a new helicopter tour company out of business in the Myrtle Beach area heads back to court this week.

The ongoing legal battle that could put a new helicopter tour company out of business in the Myrtle Beach area heads back to court this week.

Richard Hinde, a resident of Plantation Point, has asked Judge Larry Hyman to reconsider his ruling last month in favor of Helicopter Adventures, which opened in May with a launching pad off 21st Avenue North behind NASCAR SpeedPark.

The question is whether the helicopter tour company is a permitted use in the county’s amusement-commercial zoning. The Horry County zoning administrator originally said it is, then the county’s Zoning Board of Appeals said it isn’t.

Hyman ruled last month that it is allowed in that zoning. Horry County, supporting its Zoning Board of Appeals, also is a party in the case along with Hinde.

The county’s amusement-commercial zoning allows a variety of outdoor uses and specifically lists sight-seeing depots. Helicopter Adventures says it should be considered a sight-seeing depot, Hinde says it shouldn’t.

“I find the board [Zoning Board of Appeals] made an error of law in interpreting Section 712 of the Horry County Zoning Ordinance to exclude a helicopter sight-seeing tour facility as a permitted use within the Amusement Commercial District,” Hyman wrote in his Jan. 16 ruling in favor of Helicopter Adventures.

The battle dates back to last summer, shortly after Helicopter Adventures opened with a ticket station at Broadway at the Beach and the launching area off 21st Avenue North. The company opened after getting the OK from Horry County Zoning Administrator Rennie Mincey in November 2011 that it was a permitted use in the amusement-commercial zoning.

But as the company started doing test flights and prepared to open in May, it caught the attention of residents in the nearby Plantation Point neighborhood who complained about the noise from the choppers taking off and flying over their houses and said the operation was hurting their property values.

Helicopter Adventures changed some of its flight plans shortly after opening and hearing the complaints from some of the neighbors.

Hinde challenged Mincey’s determination that the helicopter tours is a permitted use in that zone, taking the case to the county’s Zoning Board of Appeals. That board sided with Hinde, but Helicopter Adventures appealed that decision, which led to Hyman’s ruling overturning the Zoning Board of Appeals’ decision.

Neither Hinde nor his attorney could be reached Monday.

Helicopter Adventures, which offers seven flight tours ranging from $20 to $179.99 a person, has continued to operate amid the legal battle.

“We hope that Judge Hyman will uphold his previous ruling,” said Ben Baroody, a local attorney representing Helicopter Adventures. “[Owner Freddie Rick] certainly hopes to stay in business.”

The hearing is set for 1 p.m. Wednesday at the Horry County Government and Justice Center in Conway.

If either side doesn’t agree with Hyman’s ruling, it has 30 days to appeal it to the S.C. Court of Appeals.

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