September 3, 2013

Horry council passes adult business rules

The Gold Club gentleman’s club and Airport Express Video have vowed to file temporary restraining orders in U.S. District Court to prevent any action from closing their doors until challenges are filed to zap the new ordinances from the books.

Horry County Council voted Tuesday to enact two ordinances that will change the way adult businesses in unincorporated areas do business – or not do business at all at the current locations.

However, two businesses – The Gold Club gentleman’s club and Airport Express Video – have vowed to file temporary restraining orders in U.S. District Court to prevent any action from closing their doors until challenges are filed to zap the new ordinances from the books.

Those expecting excitement from the third reading got it Tuesday, where a near-capacity council chamber heard some of the same arguments and some new arguments on both sides of the issue. One resident read the definition of gentleman to the council; playful ribbing between council members about who would hold the broom and who would hold the rug if the council sweeps the issue under the rug again; and there was plenty of cheering between comments as both sides presented their arguments.

The zoning and conduct ordinances each passed 9-2, with Councilmen Harold Worley and Carl Schwartzkopf voting against the ordinances. Both men have said they want enforceable ordinances, but wanted to take more time on them to try to avoid legal battles and work with adult businesses on an amicable ordinance.

The new zoning ordinance restricts adult-themed businesses to one of three zoned areas in the county – highway commercial, limited industrial and heavy industrial. The zoning ordinance forces the businesses to be at least 1,500 feet from residential properties, churches, daycares and the like, which will effectively make every adult business in unincorporated Horry County in violation unless they change their current ways.

Council also passed a conduct ordinance, which prevents adult-themed businesses from being open between midnight and 6 a.m. The ordinance also sets stricter rules for businesses with viewing booths and prevents nudity in gentleman’s clubs. It also states semi-nudity is OK if employees are six feet from patrons on a stage that is at least 18 inches high.

Early in Tuesday’s discussions, Worley made a motion to defer the issue to a committee of two councilmen, two community leaders and two members of the adult industry. He said they would have six months to come up with ordinances that work for everyone involved. The motion was voted down.

The county’s eight adult-themed businesses now have 90 days to comply with the new ordinances unless there is a challenge in court.

“I just think that we’re leaving a lot on the table here,” Worley said. “We’re missing an opportunity here to get something in place whereas the way we’re going, we’re not going to get anything. They’re not going anywhere.”

Schwartzkopf agreed.

“This is the first time we’ve had both sides of the issue willing to sit down and discuss it,” he said. “Previously to this point, it has been a one-way street.”

Councilman Paul Price said there have been more than enough opportunities for business owners to get involved.

“How many years, not months, do we have to wait as a council to stand up and do what we were elected to do?” he said.

Councilman Al Allen received probably the loudest and most response from attendees after reminding council chambers who put the elected officials in office.

“With all due respect, the adult entertainment industry has not stepped up and offered to begin meeting until we started to put some teeth in our ordinance. Ask yourself why,” Allen said. “We have go to do this for the betterment of our county.”

“The golfers, again with all due respect, who attend those clubs didn’t elect us to put us in office.”

Darren Squires, a local pastor, told the council before the vote that it was their chance to “restrain the evil.”

“You’re the people that can change our county,” he said. “You’re the ones we can put down as the one’s who made a difference... What we’re asking you to do when we put our confidence in voting for you... is to restrain the evil.”

Adult businesses such as The Gold Club, Airport Express Video and Bottoms Up Gentlemen’s Club in Little River were the known businesses in attendance.

Pat Ward, owner of Bottoms Up, said he has owned the club for 18 years and has gone through all of the proper permitting for signage and when making improvements, which he believes makes him compliant with the county’s ordinances.

“We didn’t just get here yesterday and start dancing,” he said. “We’re not going nowhere... we’re going to stay where we’re at and put more clothes on or whatever. I think, as owners, we can all sit down and revise the rules, regulations, whatever you want to do.

“It’s our constitutional right to be here and we’re going to be here.”

Mike Rose, owner of The Gold Club, said before the vote that discussing and settling any issues should be done outside of court.

“I just don’t think that federal court is the place for it,” Rose said. “I believe if you could all agree to work with me and my attorney, we could help make all the necessary changes that are good for you, the community and our business.”

Resident Charles Moshier believes the business owners are were right in coming forward and asking for a meeting and he fears their move to try and negotiate – even at the 11th hour – will look bad in court if a judge asks if the case could have avoided court.

“I’m asking you for one thing: Do not get me sued,” he told the council before the vote. “Is it their fault that they’re in this position today?”

Moshier said it’s the county’s loose ordinances that let these businesses in. But before Tuesday’s vote was the time to help reach a happy medium.

“It’s quite evident that these people are willing to sit down and talk,” he sad. “That might avoid problems later on.”

After the vote took place and the 90-day clock for the ordinances began, Chairman Mark Lazarus ended the discussion with a simple message to County Attorney Arrigo Carotti and Scott Bergthold, the out-of-state attorney the county hired to draft these ordinances.

“Mr. Carotti and Mr. Bergthold, you’ve got your work cut out for you,” he said.

Coast RTA funding approved

Horry County approved giving Coast RTA its final payment from last fiscal year, saving about $600,000 from cuts in the transit’s $5 million budget this year.

County officials asked Coast RTA CEO Myers Rollins at the beginning of the year to make a good faith effort to try and increase the number of Horry County representatives on the RTA board. If not, the council contended, it would withhold the fourth-quarter payment of more than $260,000. In June, councilmen voted to withhold the money because some believed an effort wasn’t made.

That sent the RTA’s budget into a whirl, prompting talks of route cuts, staff reductions and continued hiring freezes. Specifically, 26 operations positions, two maintenance positions and five administrative positions would be eliminated from the 87-person staff. The smaller budget also would continue the hiring freeze for five positions currently frozen because of budget constraints, which include the director of marketing, human resources manager and an accountant. The RTA’s Entertainment Express and airport routes will be eliminated as early as October if the funding is not reinstated, and Coast’s on-demand route will be shortened from 12 hours per day to six.

In July, Coast RTA had to submit a budget to the Federal Transit Authority that is about $600,000 less than the initial $5 million proposed because about $340,000 was contingent on Coast receiving full payment from the county. The Coast RTA board has set up meetings to talk about how to accomplish getting more county representation on the board. Questions were formed and will be presented to the state Attorney General, which is what Coast RTA officials presented as a valiant effort.

The funding passed despite four “no” votes, which came from Councilmen Gary Loftus, Al Allen, Paul Price and Brent Schulz.

Loftus, who sits on the Coast RTA board, said he did not think a valiant effort was made.

Chairman Lazarus said he thinks an effort was made.

“I believe that they have done what we’ve asked in a good faith effort,” he said. “I believe the sincerity of you moving forward is there.”

Helicopters lease glides through first reading

Horry County voted to approve the first reading of a five-year contract with Executive Helicopters, the holding company for Huffman Helicopters.

The county spent much of the summer negotiating with Huffman Helicopters. Huffman, which is at the tail end of a renegotiation year, has been in the county for years. The terms of the five-year lease were approved at the County Council meeting Tuesday, which is well in advance of the Oct. 31 expiration date of its current five-year contract.

Councilmen were receiving complaints of noise and excessive rides over neighborhoods along the Grand Strand. Before the county cast its first vote on the issue, Jeremy Bass, owner of Huffman Helicopters, changed the routes to ride along the shore at a height of 1,200 feet. He also re-routed the helicopters from above neighborhoods to over the ocean.

Huffman has planned improvement for two hangars at Myrtle Beach International Airport, where it plans to have a school and currently conducts maintenance.

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