City tack­les ‘chronic prob­lem’ mo­tels to clean up down­town

The Sun News (Sunday) - - Front Page - BY MEGAN TOMASIC mtoma­sic@the­sun­news.com

Liz­a­beth Litrell took a long drag on her cig­a­rette as she sat on a stoop out­side of the mo­tel room where she’s stay­ing. Sev­eral peo­ple walked in and out of The Oa­sis, en­joy­ing the sunny af­ter­noon.

Litrell has lived at the Myr­tle Beach mo­tel for three months with her three teenage chil­dren and 2year-old grand­son. Her room has two beds and a small kitchen.

Her stoop faces York Street and the Foun­tain­bleau Inn, mo­tels tucked be­tween tow­er­ing high-rise ho­tels. Mopeds line the lit­tle road lead­ing to the heart of the mo­tel, where tow­els are tossed over the rail­ings.

Dur­ing Septem­ber, the mo­tel had three pub­lic safety calls, on­line records show.

Po­lice and fire of­fi­cials are com­mon sights at sev­eral of the small mo­tels lin­ing Ocean Boule­vard in down­town Myr­tle Beach, re­spond­ing to calls in­volv­ing pros­ti­tu­tion, nar­cotics and dis­or­derly con­duct, ac­cord­ing to po­lice re­ports.

“Here in Myr­tle Beach, it’s drug in­fested, there’s a lot of pros­ti­tutes around here,” Litrell said. “It’s not the same — like it used to be.”

Calls for ser­vice are not rea­sons to put mo­tels and busi­nesses on the nui­sance list, ac­cord­ing to a city or­di­nance. But that soon could change.

City man­ager John Ped­er­sen plans to pro­pose changes to the nui­sance or­di­nance in or­der to help with “the chronic prob­lem ar­eas that we have,” mak­ing calls for ser­vice a rea­son a busi­ness can be added to the list.

Build­ings cur­rently are con­sid­ered a nui­sance when flagged for un­law­ful sex­ual ac­tiv­ity and drugs.

“It hurts my class­mates to see what has hap­pened to Myr­tle Beach, when our dad­dies were the one’s who built it,” said Anita Sun­day, cor­po­rate man­ager at The Aquarius mo­tel. “They’re the ones that had the dream of what Myr­tle Beach could be.”

On Sept. 27, po­lice re­sponded to The Oa­sis for an as­sault. When of­fi­cers ar­rived at the York Street mo­tel, they spoke with the vic­tim who had vis­i­ble in­juries to the left side of his face and eye, ac­cord­ing to a po­lice re­port.

Of­fi­cials said the vic­tim was grabbed by his hair, slammed to the ground and re­peat­edly punched.

Of­fi­cers were not able to lo­cate the at­tacker, the re­port states, but The Oa­sis’ clerk said it was a res­i­dent at the mo­tel.

Com­pared to larger ho­tels like the Hol­i­day Inn at the Pavil­ion, Bay View Re­sort and Ho­tel Blue, some of the smaller mo­tels have higher calls for ser­vice every month.

Last month, the three ho­tels had be­tween two and three calls for ser­vice, on­line records show, while mo­tels like Co­ral Sands and Sea Banks Mo­tor Inn had up to 15.

Dur­ing Septem­ber, the Co­ral Sands mo­tel on 3rd Ave. North and Ocean Boule­vard had 11 pub­lic safety calls.

Luke Wolf, Co­ral Sands gen­eral man­ager, said the mo­tel has se­cu­rity staff and video surveil­lance to help com­bat crime. He de­clined to an­swer ad­di­tional ques­tions.

Front desk staff said own­ers of Co­ral Sands also run the Sea Gypsy Inn across the street. Ac­cord­ing to Or­b­itz, room rates are $29 per night at both the Sea Gypsy Inn and Co­ral Sands.

At Sea Banks Mo­tor Inn, 2200 S. Ocean Blvd., po­lice re­sponded to five calls for ser­vice in Septem­ber, in­clud­ing those for a fugi­tive, tres­pass­ing, forgery and a lar­ceny.

In Au­gust, the mo­tel had 15 calls for ser­vice. Of those calls, eight were drugs and nar­cotics vi­o­la­tions, on­line records show. Ac­cord­ing to Or­b­itz, rooms are $43 per night.

Man­age­ment de­clined an in­ter­view with The Sun News.

The Aquarius Mo­tel, which sits a block be­hind the SkyWheel and the bus­tle of Ocean Boule­vard, is prone to larce­nies and bur­glar­ies, said Sun­day, the cor­po­rate man­ager.

In Septem­ber, of­fi­cials re­sponded to

four calls for ser­vice at the mo­tel — two drug vi­o­la­tions, one over­dose and one for a stolen ve­hi­cle. In Au­gust, of­fi­cials re­sponded to a drug vi­o­la­tion, miss­ing per­sons re­port and re­ported bur­glary.

But po­lice of­fi­cers are a wel­comed sight at the mo­tel, Sun­day said. Sun­day makes a point to kick peo­ple out if of­fi­cials are called to their room for any rea­son, she said.

“It’s not easy,” Sun­day said. “It’s very ex­pen­sive, and the area that we are in is very dif­fi­cult be­cause of all the home­less and pros­ti­tutes and drug deal­ers.”

WHAT CAN THE CITY DO?

For po­lice, re­spond­ing to calls in­volv­ing pros­ti­tu­tion, nar­cotics, dis­or­derly con­duct, tres­pass­ing and fight­ing are fa­mil­iar du­ties, Lt. Brian Mur­phy with the Myr­tle Beach Po­lice Depart­ment said.

Ac­cord­ing to law, these are ex­am­ples of acts that can land busi­nesses on the nui­sance list.

In nui­sance cases, Mur­phy said, po­lice, fire, code en­force­ment and lawyers are in­volved. If a prop­erty is iden­ti­fied as a pos­si­ble nui­sance, they meet with city rep­re­sen­ta­tives.

“We work very hard with the owner at this stage to en­cour­age the owner to vol­un­tar­ily bring the prop­erty into com­pli­ance with the or­di­nances,” Mur­phy said in an email. “Un­for­tu­nately, some­times these ef­forts fail, and an abate­ment let­ter must be is­sued.”

If an owner still does not clean up their prop­erty, the city will take le­gal ac­tion, but it’s a last re­sort, he said.

These meet­ings take place about once or twice a quar­ter, he said, but would not cite any spe­cific ex­am­ples of of­fi­cers work­ing with lo­cal busi­nesses.

“If you think about it, if we re­spond to a nar­cotics over­dose — you may have be­tween po­lice and fire — you may tie up six or seven dif­fer­ent units there and up to 12 peo­ple de­pend­ing on the sever­ity of the thing,” Ped­er­sen said. “That takes those peo­ple off the street.”

While it is part of the job to re­spond to those calls, Ped­er­sen said, the prob­lem comes in when the calls be­come chronic.

“If you are, as an owner, not tak­ing the man­age­ment steps that you need to … then we’re just send­ing those re­sources to the same lo­ca­tion every time,” Ped­er­sen said. “And the ques­tion is, is that fair to the rest of the city?”

‘I JUST DON’T DEAL WITH YOU’

For Terri Hucks, rent­ing to peo­ple with­out jobs or a per­son who looks “like a drug­gie” is not an op­tion.

The Dar­ling­ton Inn and Cot­tages owner, 203 N. Ocean Blvd., said he has turned away peo­ple for smelling like al­co­hol.

“It’s very sim­ple,” Hucks said. “I’m a sim­ple per­son. I’ll tell it like it is. If I don’t like the way you look and the way you act, or you smell like you’re drunk, nah. I just don’t deal with you.”

At the Aquarius, which pro­vides weekly and nightly rentals, ten­ants are kicked out for sus­pected drug use.

Sun­day said she does not al­low any kind of door dec­o­ra­tions that will set one room apart from an­other, and any foot traf­fic af­ter will 10 p.m. raises sus­pi­cions from staff.

Ac­cord­ing to Sun­day, dec­o­ra­tions like wreaths and rib­bons are used to make a room stand out for peo­ple look­ing to buy drugs.

If po­lice are called to a room, the per­son is thrown out the next day.

Sun­day said the mo­tel will go as long as two or three months with­out throw­ing a ten­ant out. But some­times, they’ll throw out two or more peo­ple a week.

“We have never been on the nui­sance list of Myr­tle Beach,” Sun­day said. “They like the way we work at pa­trolling what we have, even as hard as it is.”

Mark Kruea, city spokesman, said of­fi­cials do not keep a run­ning nui­sance list.

Some mo­tels along the boule­vard rent out to long-term ten­ants like Litrell, who’s moved from mo­tel to mo­tel.

Ac­cord­ing to Hucks, the prob­lem with some of the mo­tels along Ocean Boule­vard is a dis­tant owner.

“If you look at all of the places, who you’re go­ing to be talk­ing to or what­ever, I’ll guar­an­tee you that nine out of 10 of them are not owner-op­er­a­tors,” Hucks said. “They buy the build­ing, they fill it full of who­ever, throw some­body on the front desk that doesn’t care about any­thing, and then it just heads down­hill.”

When Myr­tle Beach was de­vel­oped, it was filled with smaller prop­er­ties and mom-and-pop busi­nesses.

“That’s changed,” Ped­er­sen said this sum­mer, “and now you’ve got, on the ocean­front it­self, you’ve got these re­ally tall tow­ers and so you’re mak­ing a lot more use of the foot­print of the land, which, kind of in a sense, make the tran­sient ac­com- mo­da­tions on the back rows less ac­ces­si­ble.”

Hav­ing older busi­nesses in the city means some of the orig­i­nal own­ers have died, re­sult­ing in a change in own­er­ship.

While the busi­ness could have been left to the sec­ond and third gen­er­a­tions, those new own­ers do not nec­es­sar­ily live in the area.

“This is not a blan­ket state­ment, but in some cases they have the prop­erty paid for, the per­son doesn’t live here and they get a check every week, but they don’t have that per­sonal in­volve­ment that an ac­tual owner-op­er­a­tor has,” Ped­er­sen said.

And the way to fix it, he said, is through code en­force­ment.

Over the past year, the city has hired two new code en­force­ment of­fi­cers fo­cused on en­forc­ing or­di­nances, clean­ing up garbage along the streets and check­ing to see if build­ings are up to code.

Over the past eight months, there have been 457 code vi­o­la­tions in the down­town area, Ped­er­sen said.

“It’s our front porch and it’s what peo­ple see when they come to town,” Myr­tle Beach Mayor Brenda Bethune said this sum­mer dur­ing an ed­i­to­rial board meet­ing with The Sun News. “We want to clean up the front porch and make it look clean and invit­ing.”

For the city man­ager, clean­ing up the area be­tween the Pavil­ion and Fam­ily King­dom — an area filled with ho­tels and mo­tels — will help change the feel of Myr­tle Beach.

In the ed­i­to­rial board meet­ing, Ped­er­sen said he would like to see Myr­tle Beach fea­ture a com­bi­na­tion of re­tail, some at­trac­tions and full-time res­i­den­tial cater­ing to a younger crowd.

WHAT’S THE AN­SWER?

For Sun­day, clean­ing up the mom-and-pop mo­tels is a com­mu­nity ef­fort.

“If ev­ery­body doesn’t work to­gether, this is never go­ing to get fixed. It’s gonna stay the same,” Sun­day said. “It’s gotta be a team ef­fort. And that means the city, the po­lice depart­ment and us.”

Sun­day said the city is do­ing what it can by tear­ing down aban­doned mo­tels. In Au­gust 2016, Emer­ald Shores, 404 N. Ocean Blvd., was torn down. In 2017, Rain­bow Court, 411 N. Ocean Blvd. was de­mol­ished. Now, two empty lots sit where for­mer mo­tels once stood.

Sun­day said if the city con­tin­ues to rid the area of these mo­tels, the “un­wanted” will leave Myr­tle Beach.

“If we keep hous­ing them, we’re never gonna get them to leave,” she said. “They’ll stay.”

JOSH BELL jbell@the­sun­news.com

The City of Myr­tle Beach is work­ing to com­bat crimes at mom-and-pop mo­tels by re­strict­ing the nui­sance list.

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