Residents of the Booker T. Washington neighborhood could no longer have to leave the area to purchase alcohol from a store, and owners of certain vacant multi-family properties would have the option to reopen them if the Myrtle Beach City Council approves the second reading of an ordinance that would change that area’s zoning laws.
After two years of collaboration between the residents of the Booker T. Washington neighborhood – which sits west of Oak Street between 21st Avenue North and Mr. Joe White Avenue – and the Myrtle Beach Planning Department, the Myrtle Beach City Council voted Tuesday to approve the first reading of an ordinance that would create an overlay district with the zoning changes.
In 2011, residents of the neighborhood approached the city for help in curbing crime in Booker T. Washington. The city passed an ordinance that banned all alcohol sales in the neighborhood until the planning department studied the issue.
City planner Allison Hardin said much of the concern was around the crime reported in the area of two former clubs on Carver Street, Congo Club and Fiesta Club.
“Since 2011, crime calls have decreased considerably, especially in that vicinity,” she said.
The planning department looked at calls for two time periods – 2005-2010 and 2011 to 2013 – and the average number of calls per month on Carver Street dropped from 69 to 28, respectively, Hardin said.
“Reports of public intoxication seem to have decreased 90 percent,” she said.
The ordinance would allow alcohol to be sold at convenience stores or package stores in the Booker T. Washington neighborhood and taken home, but not in restaurants or bars to be consumed on site.
During a number of public meetings over the years, residents have said people walk across Oak Street or across Mr. Joe White Avenue to a convenience stores – which isn’t safe – to purchase alcohol, Hardin said.
William Jackson, who owns the property where Congo Club operated, questioned the city’s proposal to allow the sale of alcohol for off-site consumption but continue a ban on establishments selling alcoholic beverages on site.
“To me, it reeks of discrimination,” he said during the Tuesday morning council workshop, pointing to the Booker T. Washington’s history as a segregated black neighborhood before the Civil Rights Movement. Jackson is white.
Jackson said he wanted to open a restaurant that sold alcohol on his property.
Jackson also said he didn’t believe Councilman Michael Chestnut should be able to vote on the ordinance since he was part of a steering committee that worked with the planning department to come up with the zoning suggestions. Chestnut, who is black, lives in Booker T. Washington.
“When you buy my property from me, then you can tell me what to do,” Chestnut said. “This is what the community wants and this is what I’m going to vote for.”
Hardin said the steering committee saw an opportunity to establish a way for abandoned multi-family properties in the neighborhood that don’t meet the city’s code to be renovated and reopened.
“[The planning department thinks] the way to revitalize and make a safer, stronger neighborhood was to reopen some multi-family uses in the neighborhood,” Hardin said.
According to the ordinance, an owner of a vacant multi-family property that does not conform with city code would have six months from the adoption of the law to board up the building, securing it from trespassers and making it safe. Then the owner would have to secure permits and begin work on renovations on the building by June 1, 2018.
The owner would have to meet both of these stipulations or the city would not allow them to be grandfathered into the Booker T. Washington Overlay District, which would not allow construction of any new multi-family properties.
Councilwoman Susan Grissom Means said she had some concern about allowing the buildings to remain unsafe for six months.
“A lot of these properties – not everyone lives here that owns the property,” Councilman Mike Lowder said of allowing the six-month period. “Some of this may take a little bit of money to even board up the property.”
The ordinance could become law as soon as the next City Council meeting on Aug. 13 if it is approved.