The Sunset Beach Town Council has decided to reverse course on a plan to ban cabanas on the ocean-front strand, voting 3-2 Monday not to amend its beach rules to include such a restriction.
Carol Scott, the mayor pro tempore of North Carolina’s southern-most beach town, pulled back her earlier support for a ban after two and a half weeks of reflection outside the country.
Scott said Tuesday in a telephone interview that she initially supported adding Sunset Beach to a list of beach communities banning the structures because she was persuaded by arguments at November town council meetings that cabanas had posed a safety problem.
The more she thought about that, though, the fewer reasons she could find to continue supporting an outright ban.
“I could not come up with safety reasons,” Scott said.
Other beach communities to the south of Sunset Beach have banned cabanas because they often interfered with the sightline for lifeguards in stands behind them. But Sunset Beach does not have lifeguards posted up and down the strand.
Though she initially thought the stands were an obstacle to the threatened loggerhead sea turtles that volunteers have worked hard to protect, those who monitor nest sites, hatchings and strandings told Scott the cabanas had not posed a problem. The cabanas are only allowed on the beach from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Scott said she weighed the hundreds of email messages from outraged vacationers and local residents complaining about the ban, as well as the fact that no such restriction existed in Holden Beach, another Brunswick County beach town that could pull business away from Sunset Beach.
“Given all those reasons, that’s why I changed my mind,” Scott said.
Room for improvement
That does not mean Scott is satisfied with the status quo. In January, she plans to present an alternate plan that could prohibit cabanas close to the fishing pier.
She also is considering rules that would prohibit beach equipment rental companies from putting the structures on the beach until after 7 a.m. Oceanfront property owners have complained about the noise the rental companies make, driving in and out of public access areas while trying to get the structures on the beach by the current 6 a.m. start time.
“I think we can restrict the cabana companies the same way we do the construction companies,” Scott said.
One of the reasons given for imposing a ban was that safety patrols had 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. The proposed ban would not have applied to beach umbrellas.
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.
“We could come up with a rule where the cabanas have to be taken down at high tide,” Scott said. “I plan to work with the two council members who supported a ban to come up with some improvements.”
Mayor Robert Forrester, who doesn’t get to cast a vote unless there is a tie, said there could be some limits to restricting cabanas close to the pier because that’s where the handicapped access ramps are.
Forrester applauded Scott for being an elected official willing to stand up and say she made a mistake.
Support for cabanas
The mayor also suggested that there might be room to take some of the code enforcement requirements from the emergency workers who drive up and down the beach and perhaps use some of the budget money the town gets from the hotel and accommodations tax to hire part-time workers during the summer to make sure beach regulations are being followed. Much of the town budget is built on sales and accommodation taxes largely from vacationers and visitors.
“It’s not an insignificant amount,” Forrester said. “I’ve tried to stress that, but I don’t know if people are hearing me.”
Between the November vote to ban cabanas and the meeting this week to consider an amendment to the beach rules to incorporate the ban, Forrester said he received at least 330 emails, “the vast majority of which were in support of maintaining cabanas.”
Though Forrester said there might be room to make a few changes to the cabana rules, he worries about too many regulations.
“We don’t want to keep inflicting all these rule changes on people so you need a book to be able to go to the beach,” Forrester added.