Sunset Beach, North Carolina’s southern-most beach town, is poised to join other coastal communities that have banned cabanas from their ocean-front strands.
The Sunset Beach Town Council took a step in that direction earlier this month in a 3-2 decision that not only generated much debate beforehand but continues to stir questions afterward. Before the ban can take effect, the council must also agree to amend its beach rules. That vote is set for Dec. 5.
Mayor Robert Forrester, who only votes to break a tie and did not take part in the cabana ban decision, has been responding to a high volume of emails since the initial vote on Nov. 15, many from vacationers who make annual trips to the Brunswick County town. All but a few have been opposed to the ban, which applies to canopies and tents held up with four poles. Beach umbrellas would still be allowed.
During a break this week from responding to emails, Forrester described how town officials arrived at their decision.
In recent years, Forrester said, beachgoers have relied more and more on shade structures to buffer harsh sun rays while enjoying the surf and sand.
“There’s really been a proliferation of them recently,” said Forrester, a Sunset Beach resident for six years.
In 2014, Sunset Beach amended its rules to require that all umbrellas and cabanas be taken down when the wind is blowing stronger than 17 miles per hour or violators could face a $75 fine.
Under the existing rules, “tents, shading devices and canopies” must be put up in a single line parallel to the ocean and must be within 24 feet of the dune line. The cabanas can be no larger than 12 feet by 12 feet and there must be 10 feet between each one, with the anchors and tie-downs inside the canopy footprint. The cabanas can only be on the beach from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Safety patrols, Forrester said, proposed increasing their staff, citing in part the difficulties in getting up and down the beach in their ATVs when the tide was close to the dunes and they had to navigate around the cabanas.
“It’s not an issue except at high tide,” Forrester said.
Advocates of the cabana ban said people were upset by the number of cabanas that remained empty for much of the day while people were either in the water or not on the beach. Ban advocates also pointed out that at high tide on some sections of the beach, there was very little dry sand for people to retreat to because the line of cabanas took up the space between the water and dunes.
Forrester said the many critics of the ban he has heard from have offered compromise proposals. Others say they are ready to go with the flow.
“What I’ve watched over the years is there’s been really too much to regulate and enforce,” said Kevin Godwin, a general manager and owner of Cabana Anna, a company that rents an array of beach equipment, including chairs, umbrellas and cabanas.
Godwin recounted times that after putting up cabanas first thing in the morning his staff would be called back to the strand because the safety patrol found one that was at an angle it deemed unacceptable.
Sunset Beach is following a trend that has been taking place up and down the East Coast in recent years. Ocean Isle has had a ban in place for nearly a decade, and as a result, immediately after the decision, some vacationers took their business elsewhere.
Godwin, whose company also rents beach equipment on Ocean Isle, said he has seen other vacationers fill in the gap, renting umbrellas and other shade structures that take up less room on the sand.
Earlier this year, the Panama City Beach Council in Florida had discussed a ban, but dermatologists and others fought the idea and persuaded city officials instead to allow the shade structures within wider buffer zones from the ocean.
If the Sunset Beach rules are amended in early December to incorporate the ban, Godwin said he was not too worried about a loss of business.
“It will mean more umbrella rentals for us,” Godwin said.