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Land use: Proposal will ground helicopter tours from residential areas

By Jason Lesley
Coastal Observer

Horry County has restricted new helicopter sightseeing rides to public airports, and Georgetown County Council Member John Thomas says residents in his district do not want to see them move across the county line near their neighborhoods.

Helicopter Adventures, a tour company operating near Broadway at the Beach, will be the last of its kind in Horry County. A resident of neighboring Plantation Pointe and the helicopter tour company have been in court for years over the county’s approval, and withdrawal, of the company’s permit to operate. Before the helicopter ordinance was passed, owners of the business and Horry County reached a compromise to allow the sightseeing rides to continue until the company’s lease with Burroughs and Chapin expires in 2023.

Horry County residents have said the sightseeing helicopters create such noise and danger they can’t enjoy their property. The city of North Myrtle Beach rebuffed attempts to locate a helicopter sightseeing business there in April.

Thomas said residents of Murrells Inlet approached him about an ordinance after they heard that helicopter sightseeing tours were being restricted in Horry. They feared tour companies would jump across the county line before an ordinance could be approved.

Lee Hewitt, owner of Garden City Realty and a former Planning Commission chairman, said he’s heard complaints about helicopters buzzing Murrells Inlet. Though he hasn’t seen the proposed ordinance, Hewitt said he’s glad Georgetown County is taking action before the tours become a problem. “There must be a reason Horry restricted them,” he said.

Boyd Johnson, Georgetown County’s director of planning, will bring a proposed helicopter tour ordinance to the county Planning Commission for review next week.

Johnson said the new ordinance will not restrict helicopter flights from private pads or landing strips. He doesn’t want to restrict private, agricultural or forestry uses, medical flights or the business of Rotor Blade Airborne Utilities Management, a company that uses helicopters to trim trees along power line and highway rights of way. Johnson said Georgetown County’s ordinance will not be quite as restrictive as Horry’s in that helicopter flights will be permitted in heavy and light industrial zones and forest and agriculture as well as public airports.

Horry County Council determined the noise from helicopter tours was impacting the value of houses in the flight zone. Members also said personnel at public airports are better equipped to handle any emergency that might arise during a helicopter tour.

“One big difference” Johnson said, “is that we don’t have any helicopter tour businesses. We aren’t creating any non-conformity and not affecting any existing business. Rotor Blade, for instance, is in a light industrial area. This is an effort to be proactive and head off a problem.”

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