No quick fix to MB strip club locations, say officials

By Matthew Nordin - bio | email

MYRTLE BEACH, SC (WMBF) - It's the highway families from all over the country travel to get to the beach. But along Highway 501, you'll also find strip clubs.

"It's not the image that we want for the Myrtle Beach area, for Horry County," said County Councilman Bob Grabowski.

But here they're likely to stay for as long as they want.

"I've lived here since 1961 and they've been here as far back as I can remember," said incoming Horry County Council Chairman Tom Rice.

"They're basically grandfathered in," added Grabowski in a separate interview.

Trying to outlaw strip clubs where they already are would only get the county sued, said Grabowski, who remembers when that happened before.

In preparation for his interview with WMBF News, Rice said he checked with former county attorney turned county administrator John Weaver. He learned the reason you can't just tell strip clubs to move is because they're protected by the Bill of Rights.

"Well, you know, people have the right to freedom of expression under our Constitution," said Rice. "And I think dancing in some forms has been recognized as one of those protected areas under our Constitution."

Rice said the issue of adult entertainment clubs did not come up during his recent campaign for county council chairman.

For those who don't like them, there is some hope. The Pink Pony in Garden City, which shut down on its own, may provide them with a victory if it stays closed for at least a year.

"Now we have zoning in effect right now that prohibits any new adult-oriented businesses, strip clubs, from opening within 500 feet of a residential area or a church," said Grabowski.

If it stays closed for a year, the Pink Pony wouldn't be "grandfathered in" anymore. If the owners then wanted to re-open they'd have to face the zoning board of appeals and possibly the county council.

Within the city limits of Myrtle Beach, local leaders took steps as far back as the 1980s to make sure strip clubs were kept in check.

That's according to city spokesman Mark Kruea, who says they're only allowed in the area zoned as C-9, which only covers Seaboard Street and a "little bit" of Grissom Parkway.

He says that means there's no chance of seeing them along touristy areas like Ocean Boulevard.

"No," Kruea said, "Ocean Boulevard is not zoned for that sort of adult entertainment establishment, no."

He points out strip clubs along Highway 501 are just outside the city limits, a fact that's not lost on County Councilman Grabowski.

WMBF News asked Grabowski if municipalities like Myrtle Beach have done a better job of regulating strip clubs.

"When you look at the number of police officers per capita and the area that they have, I would say yes," Grabowski responded. "But that's because of their resources, the resources available."

Grabowski's referring to the fact Horry County officers have to cover an area that's more than 1100 square miles. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, that makes the county larger than the state of Rhode Island.

He says Horry County Police are trying, though.

He provided WMBF News with an e-mail from the police chief showing how investigators have tried to crack down on illegal activities at strip clubs and massage parlors since our last report aired in May.

"There have been over 20 active cases since May," said Grabowski. "There have been seven arrests, that I know of, that are directly associated with these types of businesses."

Chief Johnny Morgan's e-mail indicates those numbers are for both strip clubs and massage parlors.

Horry County leaders may not be able to force strip clubs owners to move. But Grabowski says they can try to stop anything illegal from happening inside them.

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