Horry County officials on Friday asked the court to reconsider a decision to allow the city of Myrtle Beach to sell nearly 145 acres of campground land that has historically generated millions for Myrtle Beach International Airport.
In December, the county asked the court to issue a preliminary injunction halting the sale of the property to Lakewood Camping Resort and PirateLand Family Camping Resort for $60 million. The county argued that the city should not keep all of the proceeds from the sale and that the county would be harmed by the city selling the property for less than the fair market value.
The court issued a temporary restraining order until a hearing could be held on the matter, and at that hearing last month Judge Benjamin Culbertson asked the city and county to submit orders for him to consider. Culbertson signed the city-prepared order, leading to the county’s motion that called the order “far-reaching and unsupported.”
“The City loaded up its proposed order of 30-plus pages with unsubstantiated dicta that is no doubt included for the purpose of giving the City an unfair leg up as this case progresses,” the county’s motion states. “This is disingenuous litigation conduct, as orders regarding injunctions are not binding later in the case … and the Court should not endorse the City’s attempt to gain an unfair advantage with these litigation tactics.”
In its motion, the county noted that no discovery has been taken in the case and there have been no evidentiary hearings. The county also said the order the judge signed did not reflect what was said during last month’s hearing and contains information that is not supported by the record or law.
The county is asking that the court vacate its order and give the county a preliminary injunction or provide a substitute order that addresses the narrower point of the requested injunction, which would be to prevent the sale of the property while the litigation is pending.
“The City’s motivation for loading up its proposed order with such superfluous remarks is obvious, as it apparently intends to litigate this case in the media, rather than in court,” a footnote in the county’s motion states. “In fact, the City issued a press release within one day of the Court’s entry of its order claiming that the Court’s nonbinding injunction order ‘upholds the City’s ownership of the land.’”
The land in question was deeded to Myrtle Beach in 1948, restricting the use of the proceeds to a public airport.
In 1953, the city was released from those restrictions but was not allowed to construct buildings on the property that would be hazardous to aircraft, according to court records. The city began leasing the land as early as 1963.
The county filed a lawsuit in the 1980s surrounding the use of the land, but the courts ruled in favor of the city.
In 1990, the city and the campground owners entered into a lease agreement and by 2000 the city agreed to use the lease revenue to build Harrelson Boulevard to enhance access to the airport terminal. Later in 2000, the city agreed to give $3.2 million to Horry County Airports.
In 2001, the county asked the state attorney general to investigate the city’s “airport trust fund” that had been created in 1995. The attorney general referred the request to the State Law Enforcement Division, and the city was cleared of any wrongdoing.
In 2002, the county asked the Federal Aviation Administration to investigate the city in regards to a trust for the airport.
“Apparently, no action was taken by the FAA on the County’s request,” Culbertson’s order states.
By 2004, the city and county agreed on the 25-75% split of lease money to dissolve past disputes.
Culbertson noted the county has “persistently challenged the City’s conduct” regarding this land “without obtaining any determination in any forum that the City had acted inappropriately in any manner.”
The property spans from South Kings Highway to the ocean. It includes about 700 privately-owned structures that sit on the city-owned property.
City officials have said the property was appraised at $76 million by the city and $46 million by the campground owners. They agreed at $60 million because it was roughly in the middle of the two appraisals.
City officials have also said selling to the campground owners would allow the owners of the structures the ability to sell their property without any uncertainty of ownership casting a shadow over their negotiations.
After the late 2020 city council agreement to sell the land, the county responded with a lawsuit to stop the sale. The county has argued it is entitled to 75% of the proceeds from the lease agreement reached between the city and the campground owners. The money, the county said, was tied to the Myrtle Beach International Airport and cemented in a 2004 agreement with the city and county. And the county argued if the city is allowed to sell the land, the county should get a share of the sale.
The city gets about $3.6 million annually in lease payments from the campgrounds. The county’s take of the revenue is about $2.7 million to be used at the airport.
The city has provided Horry County with $32.7 million in lease revenue since the 2004 agreement.
City officials maintain — and Culbertson agreed — that the city is not obligated to share the sale proceeds with the county, just the lease revenues.
The county disputes that assertion. In its Friday motion, the county also notes the potential impact of the sale on the county.
“Nor does the order truly account for the harm that will befall the County if the property is sold during the pendency of this litigation,” the motion stated. “The loss of this property would have a material adverse impact to the County and its ability to operate the Myrtle Beach International Airport.”
In a news release announcing the latest filing, the county said it would not offer additional comments on the case beyond the release and the court documents.
“The County leaves such matters up to the courts, which filings can be read as they are, without adulteration, embellishment, or exaggeration,” the release said. “Litigation matters are not public opinion contests, lest we reduce such important issues best left to the judicial branch of government to injudicious opinion and commentary.”
Kruea, the city spokesman, declined to comment on the county’s motion.