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Myrtle Beach imagines its future

Myrtle Beach is re-envisioning itself.

It sees itself as a greener, more walkable city, where you won't see parking lots along Kings Highway, recycling and trash containers won't be visible from any street, where cars will no longer be parked on lawns and the taller a hotel is, the wider its ocean-view alleys must be.

After two years of weekly meetings, the Myrtle Beach Planning Commission has completed its draft rewrite of the entire city zoning code to incorporate this vision, and would now like to know what you think of it and find out whether it matches your image of the city's future.

One of the biggest changes to the zoning code is the proposal of mixed-use districts in commercial areas along Kings Highway.

"They will have the largest list of potential uses of any zones in the city," said city planner Kelly Mezzapelle. "There can be retail, commercial, residential, restaurants, offices - everything except big-box stores and industrial uses. The goal is sustainability - to create places where people can park their cars and walk to shop, to eat, to go home or to work."

She said the new zone would expand the development and redevelopment that could happen along Kings Highway, though it would also mean some big changes - wider sidewalks, parking lots in the back of buildings and underground utilities. Commercial parking would be half of what it is now, Mezzapelle said.

You might have seen the signs around town for Tuesday's public hearing. That hearing is just one step, she said. People who attend the meeting will be asked to give their opinions on the line-by-line rewrite, and the commission will continue to take input for about a month after the meeting, Mezzapelle said.

Then, using every single piece of input it receives, the commission will hold public workshops and make adjustments to the zoning rewrite draft.

"We want to make sure everyone's voice is heard and everyone's concerns, questions and suggestions are addressed," Mezzapelle said.

After all that, the commission will hold a final hearing and vote on recommending the plan to the Myrtle Beach City Council for approval. City Council members will have to give the plan two readings and votes before it is approved, too.

The plan likely won't even reach the council before July, Mezzapelle said.

Proposed changes to the city's zoning code are in keeping with the city's Comprehensive Plan, which has been undergoing its 10-year update since last year.

The Comprehensive Plan also addresses the overarching goal of creating a greener, economically stronger, more livable, walkable city with less damage to the environment, said city planner Diane Moskow McKenzie, and the two documents work together.

Concentrating on 13 specific areas - including population growth, economic development, natural-resources management, parks and recreation, tourism, transportation, housing and land use - the Comprehensive Plan is meant to take the city through the next 15 to 20 years of growth and development, she said, and several of the plan's topics specifically deal with zoning, including land use and natural resources.

Some of the hundreds of suggested changes to the zoning code include:

Reducing the commercial parking requirements to half of those in other districts.

Requiring developers of Planned Unit Developments to analyze and report on the citywide impact of the development on traffic, parking, beach density, stormwater and city funding.

Requiring all businesses to have their Dumpsters within five feet of the primary structure - not at the back of their parking lots, which are often near residences.

No more parking cars on front lawns.

Encouraging more attractive commercial parking garages.

Removing outdoor antennas, including satellite dishes, from off-site visibility.

Requiring utility lines serving new developments to be placed underground.

Requiring new houses in a development have to have at least four architectural differences from the houses on either side to avoid "cookie cutter" development.

Making central parts of the city more pedestrian-friendly by allowing parking lots only in the backs or on the sides of businesses, not fronting public streets.

Implementing design standards that prevent long, blank walls.

Requiring parking to contain one shade tree for every 10 spaces.

Limiting retail spaces to a maximum of 20,000 square feet and bars to a maximum of 2,500 square feet to allow for the proliferation of small businesses.

Requiring a plan for protecting trees to be approved before commencement of any clearing, grubbing or development, and severely increasing the penalty for removing a landmark tree.

Offering a new density incentive in exchange for wetland buffers, for providing open space over and above the minimum required, and for using native landscaping and rain harvesting.

Offering a new height incentive for incorporating energy efficient and/or sustainable building design or materials.

Requiring more pervious surfaces in developments.