Conway’s plan to streamline rules for parking and housing around Coastal Carolina University met some resistance from nearby homeowners this week.
Neighbors packed Monday’s city council meeting to complain about enforcement of the current Horry County policy, which limits the number of unrelated residents living in a house to the number of bedrooms and restricts parking between the hours of 11 p.m. and 8 a.m. Residents contend it’s pointless for Conway to adopt the same rules unless the city is willing to hold students and landlords to those standards. Local officials admit they’ve struggled with that task.
“It’s a failure,” said Sandra Mishoe, a retired Coastal staffer who lives beside a home rented to college students. “The last time that the owner of that home had students leave, he moved out seven sofas, meaning seven people lived in that home. And we know it because we could see them out our second floor [window]. Now the police are very responsive, the county and Coastal, but when we have to call them constantly, we don’t rest. … If you adopt what we have, I don’t think you’re going to like it.”
City officials insist the change, which received initial approval Monday, will simply make Conway’s rules consistent with the county’s in those neighborhoods.
“Renting to college students is not an illegal activity,” said Mayor Alys Lawson. “A college growing like Coastal, it creates growing pains. … We’re here trying to make a very tense situation a little bit better.”
County officials attempted to make peace between the permanent residents and the influx of college students in 2009 when they created an overlay zone with specific rules for communities close to the campus. The move was a response to complaints from residents about students crowding into houses and parking in yards, streets and ditches. The affected neighborhoods include Quail Creek and College Park. A committee of students, homeowners, landlords and other leaders hammered out some policies, which county officials approved.
Now that the city has begun annexing properties in those neighborhoods – 13 parcels are now in the city -- Conway leaders want the rules to be uniform.
But during Monday’s public hearing, residents criticized the overlay zone as ineffective. Some even maintained their property values have dropped because the neighborhoods are viewed as college communities, not single-family areas.
“We’ve been very concerned about the effect of the rentals in our neighborhood,” said Kathy Hamilton, who has lived in Quail Creek since the 1970s. “The only thing you will gain by passing this overlay for the City of Conway is give you the same mess that we’ve got.”
Steven Bleicher, an associate dean at Coastal who lives near the campus, contends the current policies aren’t impacting the students living beside him.
“It is a nightmare,” he said. “They park on the lawn. There’s nobody out to enforce the parking on the lawn. There are more than three unrelated people living there. There’s nobody who enforces it. So if you do adopt it, then you’re going to probably expect a lot of Quail Creek residents to call on the city to actually enforce this. … Right now, unfortunately, it’s not being enforced and it’s destroying the neighborhood.”
Although most of the zone’s neighborhoods are in unincorporated Horry, the county typically lets the university’s police department handle enforcement, said county spokeswoman Lisa Bourcier. She said the university offers programs to educate students about being good off-campus neighbors.
What the university can’t provide, though, is enforcement of the county’s zoning policies, said Coastal attorney Tim Meacham.
About five years ago, Meacham said, university police sought to obtain a search warrant to find out how many students were living in an off-campus house in the overlay zone.
But an opinion from the S.C. Attorney General’s Office made it clear that while zoning officials can enter a home to enforce a zoning policy, police cannot do the same.
“Our DPS does everything they can,” Meacham said of Coastal’s Department of Public Safety. “But they’re sort of restricted in going into a house and trying to find out who’s there. … They can’t go in unless there’s some other probable cause to go in.”
So if the county turns over enforcement to the university and the campus police can’t enforce the occupancy rules, what good are the policies?
Meacham stressed that the housing rule isn’t the only law on the books.
In the 2013-2014 academic year, Coastal police responded to 150 incidents in the overlay zone, including 11 violations of county parking policies.
The attorney added that the school now requires freshmen and sophomores to live on campus. As more residence halls are being constructed, he hopes this alleviates some of the problems between the students and neighborhoods.
“It’s much better,” he said. “A lot of it has to do with the sophomore housing requirement, moving them back on campus. And the more housing we build on campus, the less need there is for them to be off campus.”
Despite the concerns, some residents believe the overlay rules have value.
Mike Trotta, who was appointed to be the liaison between the university and the Quail Creek HOA, said complaints of bad activity near the campus are being exaggerated.
“I’ve lived in that neighborhood for 12 years,” said Trotta, who owns several properties close to the campus. “Most of the people back there know me. They have my phone number. They can call me. And in the year and a half I have been in that position I have not fielded one phone call. Not one complaint phone call. … Now if this is such a problem, why am I not out there every single weekend knocking on doors and pulling my hair out?”
Sid Blackwelder, president of the Quail Creek HOA, said that while there have been enforcement challenges, overall the rules have helped.
“We’re talking about an overlay that, since it has been implemented, has improved things,” he said. “I know that it’s not perfect.”
Contact CHARLES D. PERRY at 626-0218 or on Twitter @TSN_CharlesPerr.