A club owner had to change plans and a Myrtle Beach resident almost couldn’t move into his home because of two moratoriums that have been in place in the city for more than two years.
Myrtle Beach officials said they plan this winter to look at a moratorium that stops residential encroachments such as placing landscaping in the shoulder of public roads. However, there are no plans to lift the temporary measure in place that keeps business licenses from being granted to large bars or nightclubs downtown.
“We probably use moratoriums to get control of bad things if we need to,” Councilman Randal Wallace said.
Danny Karam, owner of the new hookah bar Ibiza Club and Lounge, said original plans were to open a nightclub in the 9,000-square-foot space he and his business partner are renting in the Super Block area of downtown Myrtle Beach.
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When the city informed him of a moratorium, he had to rethink his plans.
Clark Vereen said he wanted to make sure beachgoers had a place to park while easing his yardwork workload when he had cement pavers installed on the shoulder of the roads where his house sits in the Forest Dunes neighborhood.
What he thought would be a practical, nice addition actually isn’t even allowed in the city because of the moratorium on encroachments into the public right of way such as this one.
A moratorium, by it’s very nature, implies that something is going to take place after a certain amount of time.”
S.C. Municipal Association staff member Scott Slatton
The city also attempted in 2013 to use a moratorium to keep a temporary business from coming to town they said didn’t want in Myrtle Beach.
Myrtle Beach City Council in April 2013 also considered placing a moratorium on issuing business licenses to all new businesses in the zone that includes much of downtown Myrtle Beach – including the former Pavilion site where a Florida-based company had proposed putting a temporary carnival this summer.
At the time, council members said they didn’t want to allow an “out-of-market” business to benefit from the work the city and downtown businesses have done to improve the area over the past few years.
City Council ended up not enacting that moratorium after the company pulled out of plans for the carnival.
Local governments often use moratoriums to slow down requests they receive while studying an issue, a representative from the S.C. Municipal Association said, and it’s hard to say if or when that moratorium has been in place so long that it essentially becomes a ban.
Often times moratoriums are adopted by local councils for a set amount of time, said Scott Slatton, a staff member at the municipal association.
“A moratorium, by it’s very nature, implies that something is going to take place after a certain amount of time,” Slatton said.
He said he could not say if it was unusual that Myrtle Beach has had two active moratoriums in place for more than two years.
“Many councils use it as a tool to help them slow down things, like development, and give [the city] an opportunity to study an issue,” Slatton said. “For example, Rock Hill City Council declared a moratorium on multi-family residential construction that is ending soon.”
That moratorium, enacted last November, is in place for nine months unless the Rock Hill City Council votes to extend it by three months. The city’s staff was asked to review construction rules and standards after a year-long boom in multi-family development that officials said was straining local resources.
“Moratoriums I know of are typically six months or a year,” Slatton said. “I’m not very familiar with open-ended moratoriums. ... I can’t speak to their legality.”
Myrtle Beach City Attorney Tom Ellenburg has said the law does not require moratoriums have an end date when implemented.
Myrtle Beach placed moratorium on granting business licenses to large bars in January 2013; city halted residential encroachments beginning March 2013
F. Patrick Hubbard, a law professor at the University of South Carolina who specializes in land use law, said moratoriums can be very complicated when it comes to municipal law.
Given an overview of the city’s two moratoriums, Hubbard said he couldn’t say if the restrictions had been in place so long that they essentially became a ban.
“That’s a judgment call – if two-and-a-half years is too long,” he said.
Large bars and nightclubs
Myrtle Beach Mayor John Rhodes in 2013 said he was concerned with what he called violent events that had occurred at large nightclubs in downtown Myrtle Beach – which is defined as the area from Sixth Avenue South to 16th Avenue North, from the Atlantic Ocean to Oak Street and Broadway Street.
City Council in January 2013 enacted a moratorium to halt awarding business licenses to new nightclubs or large bars in the downtown Myrtle Beach area that could serve more than 150 patrons.
The moratorium initially came at Rhodes’ request and, more than two years later, he said he still wants to protect the “heart of Myrtle Beach.”
“I can’t speak for council,” he said. “But I still want to keep those [large bars and nightclubs] out of downtown.”
Representatives from the Downtown Redevelopment Corp. and the Myrtle Beach Planning Commission were asked in 2013 to study the issue and jointly recommended they be allowed downtown with conditions. The groups recommended that large bars or nightclubs submit a written safety plan and participate in a voluntary violence reduction program before being allowed to operate.
City Council tabled the issue during a July 2013 meeting. It has not been discussed since then.
Rhodes said he believes the moratorium will stay in place until there’s a reason to make a change.
“There’s no time limit on moratoriums,” he said. “Personally, I want it to stay in place.”
Councilwoman Susan Grissom Means said she believes having no new large bars open has freed police officers up from dealing with an outpouring of party-goers on Ocean Boulevard all at once when clubs closed.
“I guess it has been a little long, but it sure has helped [with crime] in that area,” she said. “I guess it’s time to be talking about it. ... We don’t have anyone screaming and complaining about it, and that’s usually when things get stirred up.”
It could be argued that a moratorium of this effect becomes rezoning. Someone might say, ‘you rezoned but you didn’t do it the way rezoning is done.’”
F. Patrick Hubbard, law professor at the University of South Carolina
Wallace said he wasn’t opposed to the idea of having large bars on Ocean Boulevard and that the dip in crime could help the city retain control if council decided to lift the moratorium.
“I’ve always wanted to hear what the folks down there thought,” Wallace said of the business owners and residents in downtown Myrtle Beach. “You’d like to think that if everyone would behave it would add to the atmosphere. The problem is that people aren’t very good at policing themselves.”
Rhodes added that he wasn’t in favor of voting to rezone the area to keep large bars and nightclubs out of downtown because “never say never,” adding that it was possible there might come a time when he believes the establishments make sense in that part of town.
Hubbard said the moratorium, which initially was introduced as a potential zoning amendment, could have served as an essential rezoning.
“The only problem [with an open-ended moratorium] I can think of is a technical problem,” he said. “It could be argued that a moratorium of this effect becomes rezoning. Someone might say, ‘you rezoned but you didn’t do it the way rezoning is done.’ ... That could be a technical argument that could be made, but that’s without knowing all of the facts.”
City officials have said they are not aware of any developers approaching the city about opening a nightclub downtown.
“The DRC has not had any inquiries from a developer or existing business owner about [opening a nightclub downtown],” DRC Executive Director David Sebok said last week. “There was one tenant in the Five Points area who had to modify their plans so that it would not be classified as a club. And they have done that.”
Karam, with Ibiza Club and Lounge on Oak Street, said he and his business partner reconfigured the nightclub into a hookah lounge that serves beer and wine in addition to the flavored tobacco. He only is using about 5,000 square feet of the 9,000 he is renting for the hookah lounge, which will have an occupancy of about 100.
Karam said and his business partner still are deciding what to do with the rest of the space.
“No one made us change the business,” Karam said. “We made that decision on our own [after learning of the moratorium].”
City Manager John Pedersen said there’s been no discussion among city staff about lifting the moratorium. Means said City Council has had a number of pressing issues in the past few years, including getting control of the crowds in town on Memorial Day weekend.
“I haven’t had anyone on council champion lifting the moratorium,” Pedersen said. “There’s been no movement on that in two years. ... Moratoriums are a temporary measure, [so it will be in place] until something happens to compel the issue to be resolved in some manner or another. It’s not a hot issue at this point.”
Something that has become a “hot issue” is a moratorium on residential encroachments after Myrtle Beach resident Clark Vereen brought the issue to council members during a May meeting.
In March 2013, after being overwhelmed with residential encroachment requests, Myrtle Beach City Council issued a moratorium until city staff could compile an inventory of all of the encroachments in the city. That inventory has not yet been completed and presented to City Council.
“City Council had been getting a lot of requests for residential encroachments and wanted to put a stop to that,” Pedersen said.
Vereen installed cement pavers on the shoulder of the streets where his new house was constructed, which violated the moratorium on encroachments, and initially was denied a certificate of occupancy. After a discussion – and about six weeks – city staff granted him temporary conditional occupancy.
Hubbard said he could not speak to encroachments specifically.
“It’s a little out of my area of expertise ... but most cities are glad when you improve their property,” he said.
Pedersen said that residents typically request hard paving in the shoulder – similar to what Vereen has at his home in the Forest Dunes neighborhood – or ask for the ability to landscape the area with bushes or trees. City Council has approved those types of requests as long as they don’t prevent public parking or give the appearance of exclusivity.
“Once the study is complete – sometime in the winter – City Council will make a determination on what the [encroachment] policy should be,” he said.
Pedersen said that policy could potentially impact Vereen’s pavers.
Vereen said he hopes he will find out the fate of his pavers, which cost more than $19,000 to install, sometime this winter. He said he makes sure to let drivers know they can park on the areas in front of his home when he sees beachgoers looking for parking as they are going to the beach access on 64th Avenue North.
“My neighbors – most people love [the pavers],” he said. “Most of the people who don’t like public parking don’t like the pavers because they’re afraid the city will make them do it.”