Officials in Myrtle Beach, North Myrtle Beach, Surfside Beach and Horry County will gather a consensus in their own areas on beach tents and bring those suggestions to the Coastal Alliance meeting in February.
Talks on whether to crack down on the bulky canopy-style beach tents have been ongoing for about two years, and reaching a decision has been bumped back for months. Now with the clock ticking before the estimated 14 million tourists make their way to the Grand Strand this spring and summer, area officials will decide if they should ban the beach tents, which has caused headaches for emergency personnel responding to patients on the beach, or restrict them to less populated areas.
“I think what we need to do is we need to put this to rest,” said Marilyn Hatley, mayor of North Myrtle Beach and member of the Coastal Alliance. “Take it back to our councils, find out what the board feels about it and then get back to each other and go from there.”
In December, North Myrtle Beach flirted with the idea of banning the tents in three areas of beach where erosion has made the beach too small to handle all the canopies, but it was voted down. Concerns centered around confusion for beachgoers and the thought that if they are restricted in some areas, tent owners would simply migrate to other areas where the tents were allowed. That, too, was an overall concern for cities in that if they were banned completely in one city, tourists would take their tent, and tourism dollars, to another city.
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“We’ve got a lot of people who are in the rental business who feel like people won’t come to the beach if they can’t put their tents up,” Hatley said. “People have been coming to this beach. It’s a great place... and they didn’t come here because they can put a tent up. They came here because they love the area.”
However, Mike Mahaney, city manager of North Myrtle Beach, said there is still that fear among North Myrtle Beach council members.
“Part of the reason we’ve got a split vote is they’re fearful if we do a total ban and [Myrtle Beach doesn’t], and then those people who were normally staying with them... will say, ‘We’ll go down to Myrtle Beach because they’ll let us have a tent,’” Mahaney said. “It will be an easier sell if we all ban certain portions.”
Last year, Myrtle Beach’s Beach Advisory Committee asked the council to ban the tents from May 1 to Labor Day annually. Ironically, in July, the Myrtle Beach City Council referred its possible ban on beach tents to the alliance in an effort to reach continuity among area beaches. Now, the alliance is sending it back to the cities and county to decide what they want to do.
Myrtle Beach Mayor John Rhodes, who is also on the alliance, said Myrtle Beach has had beach tent problems, both during the day and overnight.
“The problem is the space they take up,” Rhodes said. “And sometimes, they’re not even sitting in the tent. They may put some refreshments under it, but they’re sitting outside their tent. And then they have a tendency to just walk off and leave. I know that we’ve picked up so many in our trash pick up. But the safety issue is something else.”
The first set of rules for canopy-style beach tents along the Grand Strand was approved about three years ago aiming to ensure that safety vehicles have room to maneuver around the tents and that they aren’t blocking lifeguards. Tents can’t be larger than 12 feet by 12 feet, can’t go up before 8 a.m. and can’t be too close to an adjacent tent. Horry County, Myrtle Beach and North Myrtle Beach have rules for tents on the beach.
Mahaney said the process will have to be a quick one.
“We need advance time to get this to all the Realtors,” he said. “We put 25,000 magnets out twice over the summer... in every unit to let people know the rules. We need time for that to re-work all of that. Time is of the essence. Next thing you know, it’s going to be summer.”