Divided Horry County Council Enacts More Rigid Motorcycle Rally Restrictions

     Horry County Council Chairwoman Liz Gilland initially was so torn that she left it to chance and hit both the “yea” and “nay” buttons at the same time.  Her vote came out “yea”.  With the future of this year's spring motorcycle rallies at stake, she was faced with casting the deciding vote on a controversial amendment to an already controversial proposal aimed at curtailing the rallies

     The economy and jobs matter and this is the quality of life that is being maintained to pay the bills.  Horry County is a resort community that attracts families and the annual motorcycle rallies factor into this.

      In a meeting that lasted more than three hours, the council eventually voted to restrict where vendors can set up shop during the rallies and how long they can sell their products. It initially voted against doing so, but council members then recalled their vote illustrating what a hot item this subject is.

     The county effort at controlling the rallies comes after the city of Myrtle Beach passed a set of ordinances aimed at eliminating them. The Harley-Davidson spring rally and the Atlantic Beach Bikefest, both in May, attract about 250,000 people each to the area.

     Concerned local citizens are upset about the disruption to their day-to-day lives during the three weeks the bike event covers, but some businesses and bikers say efforts to restrict the rallies are discriminatory and would  harm the economy.  Some council members hope the changes will solve some of the complaints about noise, congestion and rowdy behavior without destroying the rallies.

     The ordinance that passed Tuesday was amended from the original ordinance. Initially it allowed for only 100 permits east of the waterway, 100 between the river and the waterway and 200 west of the river.  The original proposal also limited permits east of the waterway to large shopping centers of more than 35 acres, but the council did away with that requirement in the final motion. Several had said the 35-acre requirement discriminated against small businesses.  Originally, permits would be restricted to five days for the Harley-Davidson rally and four days for the Atlantic Beach rally.  Eventually the council voted Tuesday to extend it to seven days for the Harley-Davidson rally.  East of the Intracoastal Waterway, the council decided to allow 25 vendor permits between the Georgetown County line and S.C. 544, 50 permits between S.C. 544 and U.S. 501, and 75 permits from U.S. 501 to North Carolina.
     Between the waterway and the Waccamaw River, the council voted to allow 75 permits south of U.S. 501 and 75 permits north of it. West of the river, 100 are allowed. For the 2008 spring Harley-Davidson rally, most of the approximately 400 permits issued were east of the waterway.
     Permit prices were kept at $800 for those east of the waterway, the same as in 2008 for the Harley-Davidson rally. However, the price was decreased to $500 elsewhere to provide vendors incentive to go westward and avoid already congested areas.

     Councilman Grabowski, who voted “nay” on the changes, stated earlier in the meeting that the down economy and Myrtle Beach's efforts would tame the rallies, so more regulations were not required. Councilman Barnard, who voted “yea”,  had argued for issuing only 50 vendor permits east of the waterway and south of U.S. 501.   "The folks that live on the south end, in the economic end, we spent every penny we own and have put it into our house," he said. "Why should we have to give three weeks of living in paradise aside so that somebody else has an opportunity to make money at our expense?"

     The council also granted final approval to beefed-up special event permitting regulations for outdoor events that would require a permit for gatherings of more than 500 people and for events with attractions like burn-out pits or wet T-shirt contests.

     Hearing from a divided public during the session, the council listened to rally supporters who mostly sat on one side of the room, with opponents on the other side. "All I can say is, please y'all, vote your hearts," said Murrells Inlet resident Cal Harrelson, who supported the proposal. "Remember the children. We're talking dollars versus children. Please make the right choice."

     Conversely, George Aakjer, a biker who runs a tree service and lives in Myrtle Beach, said the rallies had no negative impacts on his two sons - one who is studying engineering at Clemson University and another who is in the U.S. Navy.  "They can't wait whenever it's bike week, but they grew up all right," he told council members.

     Both sides presented petitions supporting their cause to the council. A group of businesses called Business Owners Organized to Save Tourism suggested other options to address the noise and rowdiness plus a task force of businesses to help deal with problem venues.

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