Drugs and prostitution: Could name change distance residents from Yaupon Drive crimes?

After years of working to clean up Yaupon Drive from 19th Ave. South to 29th Ave. South, residents want to change the name to Southern Pointe Drive to distance themselves from the drugs and prostitution associated with the street’s name. But residents on the north end of the street oppose to the plan.

“The neighbors have done a lot to try and clean up their neighborhood, and they want to be recognized for making that change,” Carol Coleman, Myrtle Beach planning director, said. “Their section of Yaupon is primarily residential, and as you go further up toward where Yaupon first starts, near Family Kingdom, there’s commercial in there as well and that’s where the problem really is.”

Coleman said that Craig Teller, who lives in the South Beach neighborhood at the south end of Yaupon, came forward as head of a neighborhood watch group nearly a year ago and proposed the name change.

Battle over Yaupon Drive

Teller, along with other residents in the area, formed a neighborhood watch group about seven years ago to combat crime in the area. The group now has about 275 businesses and families involved, Teller said, to get information to residents of crimes that have occurred and works with the Myrtle Beach Police Department directly.

Through the group, Teller said that crime has been reduced, “and we got to the point where the neighborhood kept getting better and better and better.”

“We want to recognize what already exists,” Teller said. “We have a safe neighborhood and we have the name of a street that indicates that it’s not safe. It’s public perception that if you live on Yaupon you have high crime. It’s hurting the perception of our neighborhood and it’s also hurting property values. It’s just really holding this neighborhood back.”

While the neighborhood watch group has combated crime over the past few years, Teller said there is still some crime in the areas of 19th Ave. South and 29th Ave. South.

“Every neighborhood in the city has some crime,” Teller said. “But, we have crime, definitely there’s no question about it, related to the hotels. Thefts from hotel rooms, domestic assaults within the hotel rooms. But that’s primarily what we’re seeing on the south end.”

In November, Myrtle Beach police arrested five people from the Sea Banks Motel after officers found one .38 special revolver, 6.5 grams of cocaine, 1 gram of heroin, 22 grams of marijuana and $500 in cash, a police report states.

However, on the northern side of Yaupon, a group of residents do not want to see the name changed because of the associated crimes. Rather, they would like to clean up the drugs and prostitutes on the entire street.

“I don’t want to be associated with the crime and I think that’s what needs to be dealt with,” Bettie Olivieri, a resident of 16th Ave. South, said. “I don’t want to see the name changed, but if they change it for them they need to change it for all of us.”

Olivieri said that she is a strong proponent for preserving the history of the city, and was on the All Aboard committee that worked to save the Myrtle Beach Train Depot. She said she would be open to having a conversation about changing the name if it were for the entire street rather than just a small portion.

Now, Olivieri is working to form her own neighborhood watch group that would run from the beginning of Yaupon, near Family Kingdom, to 19th Ave. South.

“We want to be a nicer area too,” Olivieri said. “It doesn’t matter what they name it, they still have crime in that area, and they will continue to have crime in that area until it’s all cleaned up.”

She said that a group has already begun to build a relationship with the police department and Olivieri is hoping that they can show police “block-by-block what we deal with.”

“They deserve to clean up their neighborhood, but that doesn’t mean we deserve to get left out,” Olivieri said. “Cause we want a clean neighborhood too.”

The plan

Teller has been working with city officials ever since he create the neighborhood watch group, and “they’ve encouraged us to just sort of bring this neighborhood down here alive,” Teller said.

“They basically want to create the look of a subdivision, even though they’re not officially,” Coleman said. “So that’s been another discussion is if we can create the possibility of making it look like you’re going into a neighborhood area.”

In order for the Myrtle Beach Planning Commission to consider a name change, three quarters of residents in the area must sign a petition in favor of the change.

“We had like 99 percent of the people that actually live here on Yaupon with a Yaupon address that say they want to change the name of the street,” Teller said. “It’s just overwhelming that people want to change the name of the street down here.”

However, Coleman said there were problems with the proposal. From a planning standpoint, changing the name in the middle of the street goes against what the code says. While it has been done in the past for Mr. Joe White Ave. and 10th Avenue as well as Oak Street and Pine Lakes, Coleman said that it could cause problems for fire and police officials.

One option suggested was to create a traffic circle at 19th Ave. South in order to break the street up.

“Some parts of people in public works do not support that, some members of staff do support it,” Coleman said. “But it’s really up to planning commission whether or not they make that change.”

On top of changing the name, Teller wants to put up signs at 19th Ave. South and 29th Ave. South that designates South Beach as its own neighborhood. During a planning commission meeting on Jan. 2, Teller said that the neighborhood watch group is willing to spend their own money on the signs.

Moving forward, planning commission will revisit the proposal on Jan. 16 and hear public comment.

After reading minutes from the Jan. 2 meeting, Coleman said, “It looks like most of the planning commissioners are not comfortable with the request.”

Megan Tomasic: 843-626-0343, @MeganTomasic