FLORENCE, S.C. (CN) - Local businesses have sued Myrtle Beach for its attempts to curb annual motorcycle rallies, saying the new laws will hurt business. The oceanfront community has been a Mecca for bikers for two decades, with an annual Bike Week in May and a fall rally in October - already under way - drawing an estimated 300,000. But as the rallies grew in popularity, residents complained about noise, traffic, trash, lewd acts in public and reckless driving.
The federal lawsuit claims that new rules that took effect immediately after the city enacted them in late September caused irreparable harm to business.
The plaintiffs say the three ordinances, which classify certain rallies and public gatherings as "public nuisances," have led to improper roadblocks, intrusive, unwarranted searches, and other violations of due process.
Plaintiffs seek a restraining order to block enforcement of the rules during the fall rally, which already has begun. Their attorney, Suzanne Elizabeth Coe, said some judges will issue restraining orders without holding hearings but said it was not likely in this case because there is no threat of immediate physical harm to the plaintiffs.
Plaintiff Sonny Copeland said he believes the ordinances illegally restrict trade. He said that advance word about the news laws against bikers has hurt attendance at the fall rally.
"I've been here for two days already and I can tell you from firsthand observation that there's hardly anybody here," Copeland said. "The critics of the rally say there's always a huge crowd causing disturbances, but I can't even find enough bikes in one place to take compelling photos for our Web site."
Copeland said the poor turnout is proof that bad news travels quickly.
"That's bad for business," he said. "That's bad for me, it's bad for hotels, motels, restaurants, retailers, wholesalers, everybody down the food chain. You might not feel it immediately, like we've all felt the rise in the price of gasoline, but it will have a profound impact on the local economy, and ultimately, on employment in the area.
"After all, if you don't have the crowds, you won't need as many hotel housekeepers and clubs won't need extra wait staff."
Mark Kruea, public information officer for the City of Myrtle Beach, could not be reached for comment Friday morning. According to published reports, the city had not been served with the lawsuit by Thursday afternoon.
The lawsuit focuses on an amendment to the city's noise ordinance that details noise standards to which vehicles must adhere; an ordinance that declares bike rallies and other unpermitted events to be nuisances; and an ordinance that says the city can hold promoters of such events liable for any expenses the city incurs.
Copeland said overturning the ordinances is imperative, and not just for those doing business in Myrtle Beach.
"If the city were to prevail, this could have a real chilling effect on the motorcycle community," he said. "We could see similar restrictions spread across the country."
Plaintiffs are The Dog House Bar & Grill, Steel Horse Saloon, Country Club Inc., Club Kryptonite, Maximus Entertainment Inc. and Sonny Copeland, owner of Myrtle Beach Bike Week LLC and operator of myrtlebeachbikeweek.com.
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