Beaufort News

Hilton Head to revisit rules on beach businesses

A call for looser restrictions on commercial activity on Hilton Head Island beaches has prompted questions about a loophole in a town ordinance.

Town staff are reconsidering how the municipality defines "commercial activity" after a 23-year-old resident contended surf lessons taught on island beaches violate a town ordinance.

The island's municipal code prohibits commercial activity and solicitation on beaches without a franchise agreement to do so. Shore Beach Services is the only company allowed to operate beach activities on Hilton Head.

John Suddath, though, says several island businesses operate surf lessons on the beaches without a franchise agreement. Suddath has requested the ordinance either be amended or the town grant him a franchise agreement to provide skimboarding lessons.

"It occurred to me that I could use my passion to make a little extra summer income by giving lessons to tourists, or so I thought," he said.

Skimboarding is a sport in which the participant throws a thin board in shallow water and surfs or "skims" across the surface.

Businesses have skirted the ordinance by moving financial transactions and solicitation off the beach.

Fuel Station Ride Shop and Palmetto Dunes Outfitters, for example, provide surf lessons on the beach, but participants must sign up and pay for the lessons at their shops.

"No sales are made on the beach," said Gary Smith, assistant manager at Palmetto Dunes Outfitters. "All sales are made at the resort, and, once that is complete, we take them out to the beach and teach them how to surf."

Town staff attorney Brian Hulbert said that is legal.

"We allow private businesses to operate adjacent to the beach, but you have to meet other requirements, such as securing a business license and complying with zoning regulations," Hulbert said.

The Island Recreation Association offers surf lessons on the beach as well, and is allowed to do so because it is a nonprofit organization, said executive director Frank Soule. The association has a contract with the town to provide recreation services and use facilities throughout the community to do so, Soule said.Hulbert said the town is trying to determine whether the lessons provided on town beaches should be considered commercial activity.

"Is that something we're going to regulate or not regulate? That's something we'll have to consider," he said.

The town has turned down requests for franchise agreements to provide refreshments on the beach and has warned individuals on numerous occasions to stop solicitations for timeshares and for food and beverages, Hulbert said.

"I'm assuming council at the time passed the ordinance because they didn't want Hilton Head to be Myrtle Beach," he said. "They want it to be a family-friendly beach without the commercial activity and being solicited."

Town manager Steve Riley said Suddath's request is on hold until town staff completes its review of the ordinance.

Only Town Council has the authority to approve a franchise agreement or any changes to the ordinance.