Reviewing business licenses could help better regulate commercial use of county docks

zmurdock@beaufortgazette.comAugust 20, 2013 

The Beaufort County Council's facilities committee met at 2 p.m. on Tuesday to discuss some issues that have come up at the Cross Island Boat Landing. They decided to not make any major changes in how public docks are used in Beaufort County and instead decided the Town of Hilton Head Island should take a closer look how business licenses are issued on the island.

DELAYNA EARLEY — Staff photo Buy Photo

No major changes are coming for Beaufort County's ordinance regulating how its public docks are used.

Instead, the Town of Hilton Head Island should take a closer look at business licenses and how they're issued on the island, Beaufort County Council's public facilities committee decided Tuesday.

Members of the committee discussed the types of complaints that have been submitted about the use of public docks with county public works director Eddie Bellamy.

Complaints were primarily about the Cross Island and Marshland boat landings -- the only two public docks on Hilton Head Island -- and focused on tour and fishing guides' use of the landing, people leaving their vehicles and trailers there for too long and people fishing from the floating dock.

But none of those seem to be major, ongoing issues, and commercial use of the two public docks hasn't compromised the public's ability to use them recreationally, Bellamy said.

Some business owners on the island disagree.

Keith Walston, owner of Vagabond Cruise, briefly spoke to the committee about the kind of abuse of the public docks he and other island business owners have seen from some commercial operations.

David Fleming, who owns Mighty Mako Sportfishing Charters in the Palmetto Bay Marina and attended the meeting, said he knows of businesses who list on their advertisements and websites that they launch their tours from the public dock.

That's worth addressing, committee members said, but it could be difficult to enforce.

Instead of overhauling the ordinance, which does allow limited commercial use of the docks, county attorney Josh Gruber suggested that the committee recommend that the town of Hilton Head review its process of licensing businesses to try to prevent them from using the public dock as a business address.

"One thing I learned in law school: 'There's no need to shoot something with a shotgun if a bow and arrow will do,'" Gruber said.

That may not work, Fleming said. To avoid paying fees and commission to private docks, like he does at Palmetto Bay or Walston does at Harbour Town, business owners will list their home address as the business address and simply launch from the public docks.

That gives businesses using the docks inappropriately a big economic advantage, Fleming said, and businesses like that can skirt inspections, licensing and insuring.

To identify some of those businesses, Gruber suggested that Hilton Head may look for advertisements like the ones Fleming mentioned while reviewing its business licensing.

"We're not seeing the problems that they're talking about, but I don't doubt that they're there," Bellamy said.

The committee also addressed other issues, including where the Bluffton Parkway should intersect with the Buckwalter Parkway and county paving requirements.

The committee still has questions about details of the parkway project, such as the placement of median cuts, and asked county staff to look into those questions further.

The committee also considered whether two dirt roads could become county roads. Council members recommended not to accept Kato Lane, in Burton, but did approve condemnation of four parcels on Fish Haul Road to continue . The condemnation, which has been outsourced to a third party, will cost $14,000, Gruber said.

Follow reporter Zach Murdock at twitter.com/IPBG_Zach.

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