North Myrtle Beach city council on Monday approved the final reading of an ordinance to delay implementing the city’s plastic bag ban until Jan 1., 2022, and voted down a proposed ordinance that would have given the city manager the authority to temporarily suspend sidewalk dining permits for the purpose of public safety, health and welfare.
The bag ban, passed in 2019 as part of an effort to protect sea life and keep the beach clean, was originally supposed to go into effect on Jan. 1., 2021. But, despite opposition from local environmentalists, council decided to delay enforcing the new rules to give businesses struggling in the era of COVID-19 more time to come into compliance.
Reusable bags are more expensive than single-use plastic bags, and the city is trying to give business owners more time to rebound from the decline in customers and government-mandated shut-downs of their stores.
After a spirited debate, council voted 5-2 against an ordinance that would have given the city manager the authority to temporarily suspend sidewalk dining permits to protect public health, safety and welfare, or when sidewalk dining isn’t compatible with local, state or federal emergency declarations.
The city manager already has the authority to suspend sidewalk dining permits for a number of reasons, and the ordinance would have added public health, safety and welfare as another reason.
“We’re not out of this thing yet, guys,” said councilor Bob Cavanaugh. “We don’t know what’s going to come. This was a good amendment for the city to have at the discretion of the city manager.”
Cavanaugh and councilor Nikki Fontana were the only votes in favor of the ordinance.
“My God, you’ve got to give him this,” Cavanaugh said. “We don’t want to wait until the next public emergency to try and figure we gotta pass an ordinance on two votes.”
The ordinance would have affected businesses within the Café District, located primarily along Main Street and 1st Avenue South.
“The way that I read it, if we do this amendment, it’s not only pertaining to COVID-19 but any state public health issue that may come up in the future,” Fontana said.
Council voted down the issue the same day that restaurants were allowed to open up outdoor dining areas, following safety guidelines created by the South Carolina Restaurant and Lodging Association.
“If we want to do something official, then I would like for us to specify that we want the restaurants to follow the restaurant protocol,” said councilor Hank Thomas, who voted against the proposal.
Councilor J.O. Baldwin said he was torn on the issue. He also voted against it.
“Can they meet the governor’s guidelines and still set up tables on the sidewalk?” Baldwin asked. “If they can, in my opinion they’re meeting the emergency order by the governor. We don’t want to be going all over every restaurant in the city and picking them to death when they starved for two-and-a-half months of tourism season and they’re trying to get a little bit of business off of some outdoor seating.”
Mayor Marilyn Hatley was in agreement with the spirit of the ordinance, but she was worried about the timing of its potential passage.
She said restaurants were worried about how the city would use the ordinance.
“We may have to bring this ordinance back,” Hatley said. “If we don’t pass it tonight, we may have to call an emergency meeting and bring this ordinance back. It just depends on if the people who are in the cafeteria district are going to listen to what the governor has said.”