Myrtle Beach City Council tentatively approves elevated crosswalk on Ocean Boulevard, could see boardwalk extended

Myrtle Beach City Council members will mull whether they want to allow a proposed oceanfront hotel to build an elevated crosswalk over Ocean Boulevard, though the developer likely will pay for a three-block extension of the boardwalk.

Council members said they need to decide if they think an elevated crosswalk will lift the city’s resort status or set the stage for similar walkovers to follow up and down Ocean Boulevard, and they need to make that decision by the time staff members present updated guidelines in December.

“The big question here is what precedent will it establish?” Councilman Wayne Gray said. “And are we going to regret – in 20 or 40 or 60 years – that we ride down Ocean Boulevard and there are too many crosswalks.”

There only is one other elevated walkway in Myrtle Beach, built in 1998, which connects the guest rooms at Landmark Resort to a parking garage and meeting rooms across Ocean Boulevard.

A proposed new hotel at 17th Avenue North on Ocean Boulevard could potentially have an elevated crosswalk to allow guests to get from their oceanfront rooms to amenities across the street. The new hotel, which has yet to be named, would be in place of the Palmetto Shores Oceanfront Resort.

Virginia-based Buchanan Motels LLC is proposing to build the 23-floor, 252-unit hotel across street from a 15,000-square-foot indoor water park and parking garage, and would like the elevated walkway to connect the two buildings.

The developers also will complete nearly $1.7 million in public improvements, including about $500,000 to extend the Myrtle Beach Boardwalk and Promenade from 15th Avenue North to 18th Avenue North.

The boardwalk currently stretches from First Avenue North to 15th Avenue North, with the recent completion of a one-block extension to Banditos Restaurant & Cantina.

The city spent about $6 million to construct a 1.2-mile boardwalk from First Avenue North to 14th Avenue North, which opened in 2010. Banditos owner Chip Smith said he wanted to capitalize on the foot traffic that would pass behind his restaurant if the boardwalk went to 15th Avenue North and paid for the 425-foot extension.

The city has been looking for private companies to fund all or part of extending the boardwalk to about 4.6 miles, heading south to Springmaid Pier and extending about one additional mile north.

City Council passed first reading of four ordinances regarding the development, regarding rezoning about one-quarter of an acre; repositioning alleys; amending the 17th Avenue North planned unit development to include the tower hotel, water park, parking garage and, eventually, condominiums; as well as allowing the developer to encroach into the public air space with the elevated crosswalk.

The planning commission recommended that the city deny the crosswalk.

“The planning commission also referenced the millions of dollars invested in making Ocean Boulevard more pedestrian friendly,” city planner Allison Hardin said, pointing to the reduction of lanes on the boulevard as well as installing several medians and crosswalks.

City staff presented council in 1998 with guidelines for future walkovers when the Landmark crosswalk was constructed, but council did not adopt them. City code does not allow the elevated crosswalks, but the council allowed it as a prototype.

“The Landmark was a one-shot anomaly,” city attorney Tom Ellenburg said. “It was a temporary suspension of the existing prohibition. It was a test run. And then, thereafter, I believe that door was closed again.”

City manager Tom Leath said that the council in 1998 decided against further crosswalks.

“I think council looked at the Landmark one and said, ‘No, we don’t want another one of these,’” Leath said.

The City Council asked staff to research the implications and any potential guidelines for having elevated crosswalks in the city and present their findings at the Dec. 9 council meeting.

City Council appeared divided on the issue. Councilman Michael Chestnut – who presided over the meeting in Mayor John Rhodes’ absence – supported the walkway, Councilwoman Susan Grissom Means and Councilmen Wayne Gray and Randal Wallace being torn about it, and Councilman Philip Render reserved judgment until city staff could research the issue. Councilman Mike Lowder also was not at Tuesday’s meeting.

“[The developers] made a convincing argument and it looks nice, but I’m concerned about what Ocean Boulevard could look like,” Wallace said.

Joe Pike, with Myrtle Beach-based architecture company Pike-McFarland-Hall, said although the city has spent millions to improve pedestrian safety on Ocean Boulevard, there still are safety concerns.

Pike showed City Council pictures of delivery vehicles parked in the turning lane on Ocean Boulevard, potentially making it difficult for drivers to see pedestrians in crosswalks, and vice-versa. He made a similar presentation about a month ago to the planning commission.

“If it provides safety, it should outweigh any possible aesthetic issues,” Pike said.

But planning director Jack Walker said last month the city’s street improvements on Ocean Boulevard have caused a 400 percent reduction in vehicle collisions and eliminated pedestrian-related crashes completely.

Developers originally proposed building the walkover 20 feet from the ground – connecting the buildings’ second floors. At the planning commission’s suggestion, they moved the walkover so it would be 60 feet from the ground – connecting the buildings’ fifth floors.

Crews began demolishing Palmetto Shores earlier this summer. Project architect Greg McFarland, also with Pike-McFarland-Hall, said if all goes well, developers hope to begin construction early next year. It would be a two-year project.

McFarland said the developer could move forward with the project even if the city does not approve the elevated crosswalk, though the developer might decide to make changes to the amenities on the second row.

Other amenities proposed at the new hotel include an oceanfront lounge and five-story atrium lobby.

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