Monty Martin

Conway city employee Monty Martin was busy just before Thanksgiving in 2019 preparing for the city's Celebration of Lights. This year council says putting together the display has been an overwhelming task for city employees and they are considering partnering with a private company, plus adding a Halloween attraction.

Although the heat index has been hovering around 100 degrees this week, the Conway City Council is already looking toward the fall and Christmas season.

Council got its first report Monday night about a possible partnership with a private company to provide Halloween and Christmas displays instead of the Celebration of Lights that has been losing money the past three years, and brought in only $30,000 in 2019.

The new attractions are expected to be placed in the same locations and take the same route as the Celebration of Lights, according to City Administrator Adam Emrick, who told council he was not ready to talk about the specifics of the partnership, saying he wanted to introduce the idea to council just to make sure there wasn’t any “heartburn” with it.

Both of the drive-thru light events will end at Riverfront Park that will be forced to close at dusk to accommodate the new attractions that will run for three months.

The Halloween event will include a haunted house that will offer a variety of fright levels from scary to family friendly.

Emrick said the company they have been speaking with understands that Conway is different from other places.

“They’re taking that to heart and they really seem to get what we’re looking for. They’re crunching numbers right now,” he said.

Councilwoman Jean Timbes, the inspiration for the Celebration of Lights, said she thinks this is the way to go because the city’s staff is “stretched to the max with everything we throw at them.”

Her biggest concern is making sure that the prices are low enough that all of Conway’s children will be able to enjoy the attractions.

“I don’t know I just want this to be a service for our children as much as anything else,” she said.

Councilman Shane Hubbard was worried about extending the inconvenience to people using the Shrine Club from one to three months.

Emrick said that is an issue the group has struggled with and they will make sure that it continues to be part of the discussions.

Councilman Larry White suggested limiting the attractions to Christmas this year and rolling into October next year, but Emrick said, “I think their bread and butter’s more the Halloween side.”

Conway Mayor Barbara Blain-Bellamy said if the kinks can be worked out, she sees this as a good possibility to bring people into Conway where they hopefully will spend money in local businesses while they’re here.

Emrick said they hope the businesses will benefit from the events and hope they will participate with them.

He wants to see Conway become a destination place in October, November and December.

Ashley Smith, Conway’s Parks and Recreation director, said he thinks the Halloween/Christmas combo will be good for the city.

He said the company will use some of the city’s lights, but will add more of its own.

“It will be majestic,” he said. “It’ll be special. What they do is first class all the way,” he said, adding that he thinks it will be a big-time win for Conway citizens.

He said the city needs a partnership if its display is ever going to reach the pinnacle of the James Island and North Myrtle Beach shows.

“This is a situation to where we should make money on this. I want to make a price point to where all the kids in Conway can afford to go…” he said.

Emrick will report back to council when plans become firmer.

Council then turned its attention to the annual Christmas tree lighting at City Hall that drew a shoulder-to-shoulder crowd to Third Avenue at the City Hall in 2019.

She wondered how the city might manage that kind of crowd with the virus this year.

Emrick said last year’s turnout created an unsafe situation and the city has already been looking at other options, most likely the corner of Laurel Street and Second Avenue where the Conway Police Department once stood.

He said the virus might require the event to be a little different than it has been in the past, and they’re still working on how to do it.

Councilman William Goldfinch wasn’t as hesitant. He said there’s a chance that there will be a COVID vaccine in about four months, so city staff just needs to be willing to vary its plans as time draws closer.

Outdoor dining

Conway City Council expressed its approval of outdoor dining in Conway Monday night and agreed to move forward with trying to make it permanent.

Council approved a plan for outdoor parklets several years ago, but has had only one approved and that restaurateur later decided not to act on council’s approval.

But when restaurants started being negatively impacted by pandemic quarantines and strict requirements, council gave special approval for them to move their business outdoors.

Council agreed at its meeting Monday night that the outdoor dining has been popular with restaurants and their customers.

Some of the outdoor dining areas are on private property and some on city property, and the city has worked with them to make that possible.

A position paper distributed to council says after the pandemic emergency ends, the city needs a mechanism for permitting, if the practice is to continue.

Permitting will require review by the city’s technical review committee and for insurance requirements.

“I think this is a good gesture for the businesses of Conway that we do allow this, and, with some more, I guess, thinking about how it would look long term until we have some kind of dates, as well as the alcohol consumption during this time period. Will that be part of this?” asked Councilman Larry White.

He learned that sidewalk cafes don’t allow alcohol sales, but outdoor dining does.

Councilwoman Jean Timbes said she thinks the outdoor dining has been a “charming addition” to Downtown Conway, but has worried a little about the possibility of a child darting into the street in areas where there is no physical barrier between seating and a nearby road.

Other than that, she said, she thinks the outdoor dining has been a good addition to the city and thinks it’s about the only way that restaurants will make it through the coronavirus.

Conway Mayor Barbara Blain-Bellamy agreed.

“I certainly see it as a critical piece of success for some of our restaurants under the current conditions,” she said.

Council agreed that there is interest in moving forward.

Residential design standards

Conway City Council got an update on proposed standards for residential design that have been suggested by a group of interested citizens, impaneled by the city to make suggestions to the city’s planning commission, whose members have okayed the proposed standards that have now been split into two categories: design and maintenance.

There are copious new regulations in the works, all with the goal of helping Conway become an even prettier place.

Deputy City Administrator/Planning and Development Director Mary Catherine Hyman introduced many of the suggested changes to the council.

Proposed rules now include, for new subdivisions, putting mailboxes in clusters rather than individually; (This is a post office requirements.) building garages on single-family homes at least three feet behind the front of the house; requiring that sidewalks continue from the house to a driveway or the street; requiring street trees to be planted on the house side of the sidewalk, three feet inside the sidewalk, rather than between the street and the sidewalk, which eventually tears up sidewalks; spelling out Homeowners Associations’ responsibilities; determining how close fences can come to the edges of sidewalks; requiring that no two side-by-side houses or one house and another across the street look exactly the same; requiring a variety of outside materials and architectural shingles; calling for the city to have more power to require major traffic studies in large developments; and much more.

Conway Mayor Barbara Blain-Bellamy said she wants to see more diversity in housing styles so the city can avoid pockets of lower valued housing. She wants to see a variety of price levels in the same neighborhoods.

City Administrator Adam Emrick suggested promoting affordable housing by giving developers a discount on permits for offering it.

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I'm the editor of the Horry Independent, a weekly newspaper in Conway, South Carolina. I cover city hall and courts, among many other subjects. Know of a good story? Call me at 843-488-7241.

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