City, State aim to shut down the “ship Store” at sunset cay marina

By Bill Davis | Staff Writer

Look! Up in the beautiful sunset! Is it a bar? A ship’s store? A social club? No, it’s a never-ending lawsuit.

For decades, locals have been sauntering over to a second-floor haunt above the Sunset Cay Marina to grab a cold one and watch the best sunset on the backside of Folly Beach.

But for the past year, the City of Folly Beach and several state agencies have been trying to shut down the watering hole. And its lawyers have been fighting, successfully so far, to keep the good times rolling.

Next Tuesday, Sunset Cay Ship Store’s owner, John Oliver, will have yet another chance in front of City Council to keep the doors open. The owner of the ship store/social club, represented by lawyer Ian O’Shea, leases the spot from the marina.

The business could be seen as a convenience store where boaters can buy supplies and do with them what they want.

Boaters can for instance buy a single unopened beer and then avail themselves of a nearby bottle opener.

Or they can buy a single mini-bottle and a single soda and be given a separate cup of ice, and do what they will with them on the deck. Overlooking the boats in the picturesque marina. While looking at the sunset. With friends. On a deck.

Last March, the state’s Office of Coastal Resource Management (OCRM) sent the owner of the club a cease and desist letter, saying that activity at the spot was in violation of state law.

Officials had spotted mini-bottles and what they wrote was evidence of other kinds of activity that was in violation of strict state laws.

In short, state politicians and policy makers have crafted laws and policies that look to protect South Carolina’s coast from becoming a second Florida.

Overdevelopment in the Sunshine State has resulted in clogged beachfronts and cays, littered with McMansions where manmade chemical runoff is literally letting loose algae blankets on waterways along its intercoastal areas.

As such, the Palmetto State has a series of legal and regulatory hoops any business must jump through to open its doors along, and especially, over navigable waters here.

The owner was sent another cease and desist letter in the fall from the state, and in turn surrendered the business license.

But O’Shea appealed the city’s resulting decision to terminate the license, a maneuver that allowed the “social club” to stay open while the appeal was being heard.

A crafty leap through a barely visible legal loophole that has since been closed by City Council.

City Administrator Spencer Wetmore said the place is still being open puts the city “in a tough spot, because our business license ordinance requires businesses to comply with all applicable laws.”

Wetmore also reported having received noise complaints about the business, as well as reports of parking problems and public drunkenness.

And once the city was “on notice” of the OCRM violation, “we had no choice but to deny their license application.”

Folly code allows the city to deny a license when “the application is incomplete, contains a misrepresentation, false or misleading statement, evasion or suppression of a material fact, or when the activity for which the license is sought is unlawful or constitutes a public nuisance,” according to a letter city zoning administrator Aaron Pope sent to the business’ attorney, O’Shea.

O’Shea, who was reached Friday for comment during his vacation in the Florida Keys, declined to comment for this story, citing “ethical” constraints stopping him from commenting on ongoing litigation. When reminded that lawyers often comment publicly on pending cases, O’Shea said he wasn’t going to budge.

OCRM and state Department of Health and Environmental Control officers declined to comment, also.

Wetmore said she expects the  to appeal the City Council ruling if its not to their liking, up to the state Circuit Court, which, she said, could enable it to stay open even longer.

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