Horry County officials are looking to clean up abandoned commercial properties, including golf courses and shuttered businesses, but are bumping up against South Carolina laws that limit their authority.
The Right to Farm Act prohibits local laws from restricting agriculture activity, and some abandoned golf courses have claimed agriculture status that gives them protection against county mowing ordinances.
There are at least a half-dozen golf courses in unincorporated Horry County, including Deerfield, Bay Tree and the Island Green Country Club that closed in June, and have prompted a flood of complaints to the county from nearby residents.
While the state law blocks the county from ordering that grass and weeds be cut, or do it themselves, they are rewriting an ordinance that gives them the power to do so in emergency situations when the public health is at stake.
“We’re trying to get where we can clean these things up instead of leaving them unkempt,” said Mark Lazarus, Horry County Council chairman.
“They’re not paying a lot of taxes on the property, and they’re letting them grow over and using the (farming) law to their advantage,” Lazarus said.
There are no crops growing on closed golf courses, only weeds, Lazarus said.
Residents have also complained about the former location of Thee DollHouse on Restaurant Row that appears abandoned and is overgrown with weeds.
If the county cleared the lot, they have no way to recoup the costs, Lazarus said. Only cities are permitted to put tax liens on property for such a purpose, according to state law.
Lazarus says he has already begun discussions with the state legislative delegation from Horry County to introduce legislation when the new session begin in January to extend that authority to county governments.
Until then, the council is retooling an ordinance already on the books to address the issue without repayment.
The new language says that in the event of an immediate threat to public health, such as an outbreak of Zika or West Nile virus, county officials are authorized to take corrective action to abate the nuisance.
“We’re trying to get leverage to clean these things up,” Lazarus said. “Not only are they unsightly, they create nuisances — rats, mice, snakes, mosquitoes.”
“I think we can at least make them mow the grass under this ordinance,” Lazarus said. “It’s a nuisance to the neighbors and people in the surrounding areas.”
The ordinance also targets undeveloped plots of land in subdivisions that are not maintained, stating that it affects the public health, reduces property values and creates blighting conditions.
The new rules, if passed by the county council, state that weeds and grass cannot exceed one foot in height.
No date has been set for a vote on the proposed ordinance.
This story was updated to reflect only the closed golf courses that have prompted citizen complaints.