Elliott rental in Windy Hill

An Elliot rental in Windy Hill. Photo by Christian Boschult 

Facing pressure from the real estate management industry, North Myrtle Beach City Council on Monday postponed a transient parking ordinance which would have regulated parking at single-family short-term rentals in an effort to reduce the number of cars crammed along city streets.

The city has already passed ordinances tackling noise and trash complaints. Parking problems are the last symptom of the city’s short-term rental industry that the council is hoping to regulate through individual regulations instead of the comprehensive ordinance such as the one council considered earlier last year before deciding to tackle the problems individually.

“In all the workshops we had on short-term rentals, I think that council listened,” said Mayor Marilyn Hatley. “We listened to our rental companies. They did not want a short-term rental ordinance, per se. And so we said ‘Okay, we’ve got other ways to address it.’ But our three main problems is parking, trash and noise. We’ve addressed trash, we’ve addressed noise, so we have to address parking. We have no choice but to address parking.”

But the way the parking ordinance was written – whether it applied to all parking at single-family homes or just short-term rentals – and some specific regulations within the ordinance, such as the mandate that properties have off-site parking and the large 9’ X 19’ dimensions required for each parking space, sent council into an hour-long debate. 

Councilor Hank Thomas, who owns Thomas Realty, Rick Elliot, who owns Elliot Realty, and recently-elected councilor Trey Skidmore all suggested that council postpone the first reading until after a proposed workshop on May 12, saying they hadn’t had enough time to look through it. Elliot and two attorneys representing him and his business all spoke to council during the discussion period for a motion to approve the ordinance. 

“We would request tonight that we table the ordinance because we’ve not had the chance to review it,” Elliot told council. “We saw it on Friday afternoon; it’s the first time that any of us had seen those words. I hated to bother Jay over the weekend on his anniversary, and I hated to bother Hank over the weekend at a funeral, and I hated to bother young Skidmore who’s just getting started, and ask him for some help. And Terry White, and all of you I know and love and grown up with. Let’s talk about it a little bit more before you pass it on first reading.”

Council reconsidered and decided instead to postpone first reading until after the workshop, scheduled for 1:30 p.m. on May 12 at city hall.

The ordinance, according to city officials, was written as a transient parking ordinance and would have mandated that single-family short-term rental properties have off-site parking when the number of cars on a property exceeded the number of spaces, and would have regulated the size of parking spaces at 9’ X 19’, which several councilors thought was too large. It also provided some more general rules for parking, such as preventing people from parking on the shoulder if part of their car hung onto the roadway, and restrictions on parking within 15 feet of a fire hydrant, which is already state law.

The proposed ordinance was titled “Chapter 21, Article II, Section 21-44 through 21-50. - Short-term rental parking in residential neighborhoods.” Elliot and his attorneys cited that wording and other references to short-term rentals as evidence the new rules would just be enforced for short-term rentals.

“When you have a compelling governmental interest and you’ve got a group that has been singled out as the short-term rental industry has, you need to make sure that the law and the ordinance in this case is as narrowly-tailored to deal with that compelling governmental interest as possible,” said John Scott, and attorney speaking on behalf of Elliot.

Referencing section 21-46 or the ordinance, labeled “Parking standards,” Scott added, “If you read through those, the vast majority of those are not really just short-term rental issues. They’re just people parking on the street.” 

Mahaney countered that the proposal was actually a transient parking ordinance, he said, pointing to one section of the ordinance that defined the term.

“Transient parking meaning a motor vehicle on a short-term basis, typically daily or less,” he said. “What I’m telling you is this applies to residential units also. If the mayor wants to have a party at her house, that’s fine. That’s a transient event. But don’t park within 15 feet of a fire hydrant. This is not just a short-term rental ordinance; this applies to all residential units in the city.”

George Gregory, general counsel for Elliot-related companies, told city officials that the fact there was a disagreement about to whom the law applied was itself reason not to pass the ordinance. 

Basing his argument on his interpretation that the ordinance applied just to short-term rentals, he said that any ordinance would have to apply to all residences and not just current short-term rentals, pointing out that any residence could at some point be rented. 

“The same person parking next to a street that’s in front of a residential home creates the same liability as does one parking in front of a rental home,” Gregory said. “It’s a safety issued for all. When it’s narrowed down the way this is drafted, it simply opens that door for a constitutional challenge. We’re trying to help this council. It just opens the door where this could be challenged and drug out for years in court.” 

City Attorney Chris Noury agreed that the proposed ordinance could be challenged, but said that a court wouldn’t use the compelling governmental interest standard cited by Scott. 

“As far as a constitutional challenge, there possibly could be a constitutional challenge and it’s most likely going to be in the form of some equal protection claim,” he said, adding “With an ordinance like this, a court that’s reviewing this is mostly likely going to look at whether there’s a rational basis relating to a legitimate governmental interest. The legitimate governmental interest here is preserving the peace and tranquility of the neighborhoods. So there’s a very good chance that if we do pass the ordinance, it may pass the test under equal protection and be determined to be fair. But it’s not going to be the compelling governmental interest [standard] that the court will apply.” 

During discussion, some city councilors and the mayor hammered down on the need to address the parking issues before summer starts, and Hatley pointed out that other municipalities have their own short-term rental regulations. 

“I have looked at a lot of different cities' ordinance, and there are many, many cities that have short-term rental ordinances,” she said. “If we are going to lose in court, then we’ve got a lot of other cities that are going to lose in court.” 

Despite the disagreement between Elliot and some city staff, councilors and Mahaney made it clear that they didn’t blame Elliot Realty or Thomas Realty for the over-crowded street parking, and instead put the blame on VRBOs and other property owners in the city. 

“This problem isn’t the rental companies per se, it’s the VRBOs and individual renters who have not laid out the rules for parking or given their guests the information that they need,” said councilor Nikki Fontana, who represents Windy Hill. “And the residents that have to live on those streets and are trying to do daily life and get around and do whatever they have to do; it’s hindering them.” 

Council is tentatively scheduled to hold a workshop on the ordinance for May 12, first reading of the updated ordinance on May 14 and second reading a week later on May 21. 

Aside from the parking dimensions, councilors Thomas, Jay Baldwin and Fred Coyne all questioned the requirement that rental unit owners buy off-site parking. 

“The main important part is that somebody renting a house notifies their guests that they can only have five cars so that the guests don’t get there and have 10 or 12 that they can’t fit on-site,” Baldwin said. “Our realtors do a great job of doing that since this problem came up and we talked about it. But some of the owners that aren’t a realty company that own or rent VRBOs, they don’t notify their tenants of how many cars. We need to pass something that makes it mandatory that they do that. However, I don’t see that we should require them to buy some off-site parking.”

Thomas added, “Not every management company has off-site parking. For a small operation, they may not have a lot somewhere they can say ‘Oh, you can go park your car over there.’”

Instead, Thomas said renters should be notified in advance of the parking limitations. “If they bring too many cars, it’s their responsibility to deal with. If they park out there in the road, then they’re going to get a ticket and get towed away.” 

Hatley said that instead of complaining, rental companies should be a part of the solution.

“Let’s get something started here,” she said. “Our citizens deserve this, and personally, you as a rental company deserves this because these people are making you look bad. Their lack of concern for your community makes your industry look bad and that’s not what we want.” 

Reach him by email or through Twitter and Facebook with the handle @ChrisHBoschult. 

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Christian is Texas native who welcomes any chance to do a story in the marsh or on the beach. He's a dog park regular and enjoys spending time in the kitchen. He says his margarita recipes are better than anything you'll find in a restaurant.

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