Helicopter dispute likely headed to court

A Helicopter Adventures chopper takes off from the company's new Myrtle Beach location (Source: Charles D. Perry | The Herald).
A Helicopter Adventures chopper takes off from the company's new Myrtle Beach location (Source: Charles D. Perry | The Herald).

From WMBF News Partner the Myrtle Beach Herald

By Charles D. Perry

A dispute between the residents of a Myrtle Beach neighborhood and a new helicopter tour business will likely be settled in court, Horry County officials said.

Helicopter Adventures, which opened near Broadway at the Beach in May, has drawn criticism from homeowners in Plantation Point. Neighbors have complained about the helicopters' noise, which they say hurts their home values.

"The ability of helicopters to go in any direction with the noise levels and invasion of privacy requires strict controls," Plantation Point resident Rick Hinde wrote in a letter to the county's Zoning Board of Appeals. "We basically now have an airport in our backyard."

Hinde, who lives on a street where many homes are worth more than $500,000, filed an appeal with the ZBA recently asking that the board overturn the decision of the county's zoning administrator, who allowed the helicopter business to open.

The ZBA, which meets in August, could uphold the administrator's decision or side with the residents. Either way, the next step for the losing party would be to take the matter to circuit court, said Janet Carter, the county's planning director.

"This one is highly likely to go to circuit court," she said. She noted that an attorney for Helicopter Adventures has said the business will appeal the board's decision if it rules in favor of the residents.

While both sides wait for the ZBA meeting, county council members are mulling other options for handling the problem.

At their request, the county's planning commission created a committee last week to develop a new zoning classification for helicopter tour businesses.

But zoning updates won't address the current mess, said councilman Marion Foxworth, whose district includes Helicopter Adventures.

"This thing has created a problem and we're limited in how we can go about trying to fix the problem," he said. "We can't really fix it through zoning."

Foxworth said council members are considering three options, although all have potential drawbacks.

One proposal would be to change the county's noise ordinance. If county council lowered the decibel level in the law, Foxworth said, a helicopter tour company would have to comply. Of course, so would all the other businesses in the county.

"You might end up with the unintended consequence of running some people out of business you really don't want to," he said.

Another idea that's been discussed is using the county's nuisance ordinance, which allows officials to revoke a company's business license if the county receives too many complaints about the company or too many law enforcement calls to the site.

"We've never applied the nuisance ordinance in this way," Foxworth said, "but there's nothing that says we couldn't."

The third possibility would be adding regulations for single engine aircraft. The county doesn't have any authority once a helicopter or plane is in the air. However, "while they're on the ground, they are ours to deal with," Foxworth said. "It is possible that we could create an ordinance that makes single engine aircraft becoming airborne or ceasing to be airborne within close proximity of highly populated areas illegal because of safety concerns."

It's unlikely, though, that council members will pursue any of these remedies this summer. The council meets just once in July and once in August. So for the moment, leaders are just waiting on the ZBA's decision.

Freddie Rick, the owner of Helicopter Adventures, is also waiting on that meeting.

Rick said he's tried to work with the neighbors to address their concerns, but he hasn't been successful.

"We've changed our routes 180 degrees," he said. "We no longer fly towards the end of the property and turn where Plantation Point is. We're flying towards Myrtle Waves — the opposite direction of where we were flying before." … We've done everything in our power to be good neighbors."

Rick said two meetings have been set up for him to talk with residents, but no one came to see him.

"They chose not to show up when we did," he said. "That's happened twice. We just don't know what else we can do."

When contacted by the Herald, Hinde, the Plantation Point resident who filed the appeal, asked that questions be sent to him via email.

He had not responded as of this posting.