Amid backlash from several Surfside Beach residents, town council voted to move forward with an Entertainment District — a decision that was made with several amendments that were not approved by planning or zoning, or discussed with town residents prior to approval.
The district originally was aimed at becoming a destination area featuring the pier, which is set to be rebuilt, and restaurants offering entertainment and events, encompassing 1st Avenue South, starting at Dogwood Drive South, down to the ocean and Surfside Drive, starting at Dogwood Drive South.
But residents are concerned that amendments made to the district will impact the overall quality of the area.
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During Tuesday’s town council meeting, members voted to reverse amendments to stormwater and flood damage prevention made at the last meeting, requiring new structures to follow already existing town laws. Changes made at the last meeting to parking and setback requirements and times for outdoor entertainment were kept.
“On October the 9th, our town council voted on amendments … after looking at them briefly before the meeting or maybe not at all,” resident Terri Lauer said during public comment. “There is no possible way they could have done their homework or their research.”
Councilman Mark Johnson told The Sun News the amendments were given to members minutes before the Oct. 9 meeting started. Johnson was the only council member to vote against the Entertainment District with the amendments.
On Tuesday, Johnson again voted against the amendment, wanting to take time to work with residents and planning and zoning to come up with a plan, focusing on all amendments rather than just a handful.
“Something is not kosher here,” Johnson said at the meeting. “I mean, really? We went from an ordinance from the planning and zoning to town council, and somewhere along the way it got messed up.”
Other concerns brought up during public comments included the possibility of residential development in the Entertainment District — an area aimed at attracting restaurants to the area, councilman David Pellegrino said earlier this month.
According to Director of Planning, Building and Zoning Sabrina Morris, the way the district is zoned does allow for residential construction. To take residential out of the district, council would have to amend the entire C3 district to take it out, she said.
“I don’t want any residential in an E-zone,” councilman Ron Ott said at the meeting. “This is an entertainment zone.”
In an email provided to The Sun News and read at council by Johnson, Mayor Bob Childs said residential use should be allowed in the area.
Originally, the district was proposed to enhance the pier area, which is planned to be rebuilt as a concrete pier after Hurricane Matthew destroyed part of it in 2016.
After the Oct. 9 meeting, Pellegrino said he hopes the district will provide incentives to investors to come in and build more restaurants that will provide entertainment. He described the area as having only three restaurants, one bar and an ice cream shop.
“I’m really disappointed with council, the way they’ve approached this,” Johnson said. “With the planning and zoning commission, they put in months and months and months of work at the request of council and then they basically just went right behind town council and gutted the whole deal.”
Last week, former councilwoman Beth Kohlmann and Surfside Beach Planning and Zoning sued the town over the amendments for the Entertainment District.
The suit alleges town officials exempted any new construction in the overlay district from having to comply with requirements of the Clean Water Act and National Pollutant Discharge and Elimination System.
According to the suit, the decision by council puts nearby properties in danger, potentially “causing irreparable harm to those properties.”
After the ordinance passed again Tuesday, Kohlmann said, “I’m not sure if some residents realize what just happened here tonight. … What happened was those two pages of exhibit A, there were over 20 amendments. 20. That’s a lot.”
Amendments to the Entertainment District
Now, builders will have to follow local, state and federal laws for stormwater management and the flood damage prevention ordinance in the area.
Council members also voted to approve that secondary structures — decks, mother-in-law suites and storage buildings — be required to follow stormwater management laws. The structures were originally exempt from the laws after second reading passed earlier this month.
Originally, the ordinance stated the number of parking spots already in a lot will remain, regardless of new construction. According to new rules, off-street parking is required for existing structures, but “there shall be no parking requirements for any parcel that is currently occupied by a structure,” the ordinance reads.
There are parking requirements for new construction, based on the number of employees and the number of seats a business has, and the square footage of a building.
Front and rear-yard setbacks are no longer required. Setbacks, the space between the curb and the buildings, provide green space and help mitigate flood waters. Planning commission originally required a 20-foot front and rear-yard setback.
The changes also took out landscaping requirements.
All outdoor entertainment must be moved inside at midnight. From 10 p.m. to 7 a.m., there is a limit to how much noise can come from a business. Originally, outdoor entertainment was to end at 10 p.m.
Other changes were made to the minimum lot size and the minimum lot width at the building line.