City council gave initial approval to two ordinances Tuesday that will regulate behavior in public areas.
The first ordinance, which prohibits crowding in or obstructing public areas, extends rules about loitering to include situations in which some pedestrians are blocking sidewalks or making it difficult to move through other public areas.
“Crowding of people leads to events that are public nuisances,” Councilman Wayne Gray said.
Currently, loitering is prohibited in cases of solicitation, drug distribution and harmful purpose or intent.
“I do believe that this is a useful addition,” City Manager John Pedersen said. “I think it’s part of the larger picture, part of a much broader effort to try to get a handle on some of the activities that we’ve had recently.”
A high-profile shooting in June, which occurred after a large group of people swarmed around a vehicle on Ocean Boulevard, has already led to some changes that affect pedestrians--like barricades along parts of the central strip that separate the sidewalk from the roadway. Myrtle Beach also recently moved its juvenile curfew up by an hour.
The city will also work to re-train police officers, Pedersen said, to make sure they’re aware of how to enforce Myrtle Beach’s loitering laws.
The second ordinance extends to the whole city rules that were already in place in the central waterfront area. It bars people from sitting or laying on public sidewalks and other areas, as well as prohibiting begging and panhandling city-wide
It also includes publicly accessible areas, like a parking lot of a grocery store, for example. The land may be private but the ordinance applies because the public can move freely through it, City Attorney Tom Ellenburg said.
Ellenburg also said the ordinance blocks solicitation for a commercial purpose, which could include people on the sidewalk who try to sell timeshares or other promotional items to passerby.
Loitering and panhandling offenses are misdemeanors, and carry a penalty of 30 days in jail, a $500 fine, or both, Pedersen said.
Both measures were passed unanimously by city council. They both need to be approved a second time before going into effect.