Sunset Beach leaders pass ban on companies setting up cabanas on beach

SUNSET BEACH, NC (WECT) - Companies will be allowed to rent out cabanas in Sunset Beach but beachgoers will have to set them up themselves after a vote by the town council Tuesday morning.

The ordinance allows the rental of cabanas but companies will not be allowed to set them up on the beach for customers.

Sunset Beach leaders voted in favor of the ordinance during a special meeting in front of a packed house Tuesday.

Several people stormed out of the meeting immediately after the vote.

The owners of several cabana rental companies were in attendance and expressed their frustration with the decision.

"It's frustrating because collectively as the four, five companies we have hundreds of reservations," said David Dowda, owner of Julie's Rentals."Tens of thousands of dollars already spent. We will lose hundreds of thousands of dollars over this ruling."

The town council voted last week to draft the ordinance.

"If they had waited until after the season, say September or October to enact this ban, there would be no issues with myself or probably any other vendors," said Kevin Godwin, owner of Sandlappers and Cabana Anna, at the time. "There's going to be a lot of refund checks being written back out."

Godwin explained people buy his cabanas for the convenience and a way to avoid work on the beach.

"We do have a lot of elderly people and how are you going to ask a 60- or 70-year-old couple to carry one of these 45-pound tents, set it up in the morning and bring it back that evening?" Godwin said.

Business owners are fearful the safety concerns go beyond the elderly. "[Beachgoers] get the small stakes from Walmart and they shove it in the ground a little bit and hope that's it," Collin Vanderberg, owner of Blue Planet Water Sports said. "That's why you see 85% of cabana trash is personal they don't know how to set it. I've seen so many ones fly over the dunes."

In 2016, Sunset Beach banned cabanas entirely but reversed course and lifted the ban less than a month later.

Milton Burns says he was "on cloud nine" when council reversed the ban. One year later, with a new ban, he says his business is in jeopardy. "Oh man I don't believe it yet man," Burns said after the council meeting. "It just don't make no sense, man."

Mayor Pro Tem Mark Benton said he may be open to compromise on the ban once he sees it play out in the summer season. Cabana business owners said they would be open to compromise too -- they just wish the decision came in the off season rather than a few months before the busiest time of the year.

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