The debate over Grand Strand helicopter tours keeps on spinning.
Three weeks after the S.C. Court of Appeals ruled that a Myrtle Beach area business could continue offering aerial sightseeing excursions, Horry County officials are considering an ordinance that, if approved, would further restrict where those businesses could locate. Last week, the county’s Infrastructure and Regulation Committee reviewed the properties that have the proper zoning for that type of company.
“It’s particularly relevant since we know that there’s been a helicopter operation trying to get approval to open in North Myrtle Beach,” said Janet Carter, the county’s planning director. “There obviously is still a demand for additional helicopter sightseeing tour facilities in the county.”
It’s particularly relevant since we know that there’s been a helicopter operation trying to get approval to open in North Myrtle Beach. ... There obviously is still a demand for additional helicopter sightseeing tour facilities in the county.
Janet Carter, Horry County planning director
In North Myrtle Beach, a helicopter company appeared before the city’s Board of Zoning Appeals twice seeking a special exception to provide rides. Both requests were denied. A representative for the company could not be reached for comment.
Although no new helicopter tour businesses have expressed interest in setting up shop in unincorporated Horry, county officials said there are sites in the Loris, Conway and Myrtle Beach areas with zoning that would allow that kind of activity.
The noise is horrible. The people cannot spend a quiet day. Seven days a week, it’s just noise, noise, noise. So if there’s any way, anything we can find to stop it, that’s what we’re looking for.
Horry County Councilman Bill Howard
“If we get a request in on one of these sites, we’re likely to approve it,” said Steve Gosnell, the assistant county administrator over infrastructure and regulation.
The last time the county looked at this type of a policy change for helicopters was in 2012, following a controversy that erupted when Helicopter Adventures opened across from Broadway at the Beach.
Residents in nearby Plantation Point were furious and complained to county leaders about the constant din of passing choppers. They also raised safety concerns about the tours being so close to a residential area.
Their resistance didn’t lead to any policy changes then, but it did result in legal action.
Most recently, the court of appeals was asked to determine whether a helicopter tour company is a permitted use in the county's amusement-commercial zoning. Circuit Court Judge Larry Hyman ruled in 2013 that such a business is allowed in that zoning. The appellate court upheld Hyman’s ruling, thus siding with Helicopter Adventures.
The company’s owner, Freddie Rick, declined to comment.
Richard Hinde, the Plantation Point resident who took the case to court, has not said if he will appeal to the state Supreme Court. Hinde could not be reached for comment.
County officials insist a stricter ordinance would help avoid a similar controversy.
“The noise is horrible,” said Horry County Councilman Bill Howard, whose district includes Plantation Point. “The people cannot spend a quiet day. Seven days a week, it’s just noise, noise, noise. So if there’s any way, anything we can find to stop it, that’s what we’re looking for.”
Essentially, it got worse because his business seems to be doing better. He has more and more helicopters flying. I remember counting six that took off either in succession or while they’re taking off others are coming. ... When that happens, it’s literally unbearable to be outside. You can’t read outside. You can’t play outside. You can’t have a glass of wine in your backyard.
Tom Navarria, Plantation Point resident
However, Howard noted, any changes to the county code would not affect those businesses already operating. The move would simply be about preventing another fight.
“You’re not going to stop the ones that are in business,” he said. “They’re very successful.”
The policy county officials are reviewing and revising is the same one they discussed three years ago. That ordinance called for a specific zoning classification for property uses “related to or compatible with Airport operations” and stipulated that those businesses “should not be located near established residential communities.” The proposal also outlined specific requirements, including a helicopter noise study for new tour companies.
If such an ordinance does pass, it would primarily be a precaution, Carter said. Most of the sites that allow helicopter tour companies now are either too far inland to be appealing to those businesses or are being used for other ventures.
“Even though we have a lot of acreage zoned that way, the location of most of that acreage is not conducive to a helicopter sightseeing tour facility,” she said.
For Tom Navarria and many of his Plantation Point neighbors, the location of Helicopter Adventures just isn’t appropriate for that type of business.
He said he’s read about other communities that dealt with helicopter noise, but those places were far enough away from the businesses that a simple change in the flight plan alleviated the problem.
“You don’t typically, across the country, have helicopters right in your back yard,” he said.
Over the last three years, Navarria said there’s been no getting used to the noise.
“Essentially, it got worse because his business seems to be doing better,” he said. “He has more and more helicopters flying. I remember counting six that took off either in succession or while they’re taking off others are coming. ... When that happens, it’s literally unbearable to be outside. You can’t read outside. You can’t play outside. You can’t have a glass of wine in your backyard.”
A retiree who built his home in 2010, Navarria said the situation is not what he signed up for when he chose Plantation Point.
“It’s really bad,” he said. “I invite anybody to come and sit in my backyard on a busy day to see what we deal with.”