Myrtle Beach City Council may shorten the time for developers to get approval on projects but some are questioning if the proposed timeframe gives the public a chance to speak out.
The city council agreed to change the review time of new developments from 10 business days to 10 calendar days, falling in line with recommendations from the Community Appearance Board (CAB) and Planning Commission.
This makes a years-long practice into an official ordinance, according to Ken May, city planning and zoning director. May said CAB had been working on a 10-calendar day review process for years.
“This amendment does not change the zoning code nor does it affect the public’s notice about items coming before the board, nor does it impact the public’s right appeal a decision of the board,” May said.
The city council appoints nine people to serve on the planning commission and nine to serve on the CAB.
The planning commission reviews zoning, annexation, property subdivision, park design and neighborhood planning. The commission’s findings are voted on and its recommendations are sent to the city council for final approval.
The CAB “reviews all plans, drawings, sketches and other documentation affecting new commercial and multifamily buildings, any oceanfront single family homes, the erection or construction of signage, or any physical changes (including color) affecting the exterior appearance of any of these properties prior to issuance of building permits,” according to the city’s website.
The city council, planning commission and CAB are considered public bodies and, according to state law, have open meetings allowing for public input.
But some find the streamlined process from 10 working days to 10 calendar days a violation of the spirit of the state law governing public inspection, review of documents and a chance to speak out.
Chuck Martino argued the city is now trying to save face after violating the ordinance for years.
“You’ve heard the law. You’ve heard how the law works. I’m here to let you know that the law was not used in the situation that has brought so many residents here today,” Martino said, referring to the near two dozen people in council chambers Tuesday morning. “Whether it was not being followed one day or thirty days or thirty years, it was not being followed. It’s a violation of law.”
Mark Garrow echoed Martino’s concerns.
“At the present time, it is very difficult to obtain the conceptual and final plan in a timeframe that would allow the public to thoroughly participate in CAB meetings,” Garrow said. “To shorten the schedule will make this even more difficult.”
City councilman Gregg Smith said changing the ordinance boils down to fixing an error that has been going on for years.
“It doesn’t change anybody’s notice. It changes how fast our staff has to work,” Smith said. “In reality, I think that’s just the right thing to do – to put the tax on the staff rather than on the, you know, putting the problem on people wanting to change their building.”
May said the CAB’s 10-calendar-day deadline for submitting plans has been a long-standing practice. He said the 10 days is designed to give the city staff time to review the submissions before it is presented to the CAB.
The state’s Freedom of Information Act states a public body has to post the agenda for upcoming meetings 24 hours in advance. The city posts all meeting times, places and agendas in the weekly Friday Fax, a mass email, and the list is on the city’s website, cityofmyrtlebeach.com, available to the public.
May argues the city is exceeding the state’s requirements of 24-hour notice of what is to be discussed by any of the city’s public bodies.
The state law also allows the public to request a review of documents that are less than two years old giving a public body 10 business days to respond to the review request. Then the public body is given 30 calendar days to search for, redact if necessary and provide the documents.
If the documents being sought are older than two years, the public body is given 35 calendar days.
City spokesman Mark Kruea reiterated the city gives the public more than enough time to review city documents and agendas.
“I am not sure I grasp the concept of giving immediate access to the public on something that is being submitted for review by staff before it goes on the public agenda,” Kruea said.
Garrow said it’s a matter of transparency.
“There is unparalleled growth in Myrtle Beach. It is not the time for agencies to shun the rules and shut out the public,” Garrow said.
Theoretically, if the measure is passed on the second reading by the city council, a developer could submit a conceptual plan for a new development on May 9, receive CAB approval at its May 19 meeting and then get final approval for the final plans at the June 2 meeting.
The public’s right to appeal CAB decisions is not addressed in the ordinance being considered by the city council. CAB decisions can be appealed through filings with the circuit court within 30 days after the CAB has made a ruling.
Martino has followed the appeal process this year. He and others filed an appeal to CAB’s decision on the final approval of the Cottages at Cane Patch development off U.S. 17 Bypass near 67th Avenue North. CAB approved the development on Jan. 20 and Martino filed his appeal shortly afterwards.
The city council will now have a second reading of the ordinance, but the next council meeting agenda has not been released. Should it be approved at second reading, the ordinance will go into immediate effect, Kruea said, thus streamlining the application and review schedule for CAB.