Hampton Beach Master Plan: Economic Conditions

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H. Economic Conditions


The Town of Hampton is one of the key anchors of New Hampshire’s Seacoast region. Although it is not a diverse employment center like Portsmouth, its tourism economy makes it one of the more important communities on the Seacoast. Hampton posted reasonably strong growth during the statewide economic rebound that began in 1993. Hampton Beach itself, despite having limited year-round population and employment, is a crucial component of the town’s economic vitality. To understand Hampton Beach and its role, it is useful to begin with regional trends and then to focus more closely on Hampton and then Hampton Beach. This section summarizes statewide, regional, and local economic and demographic trends.


Statewide and Regional Trends

In the early 1990s, New Hampshire was hard-hit by the lingering effects of the nationwide economic recession that began in the late 1980s. In 1990 and 1991, the state lost over 4.5 percent of its employment base. In 1991 alone, over 12,000 more people left New Hampshire than moved in. Since then, the state’s economy has rebounded and has shown consistent growth, with an average annual employment growth rate of 2.0 percent.

In recent years, New Hampshire has proven to be an attractive destination for those fleeing other northeastern states. Since 1990, New Hampshire has posted a net gain of nearly 40,000 residents, with the largest gains coming from the six northeastern states of Massachusetts, New York, Connecticut, New Jersey, Vermont, and Maine. Massachusetts alone contributed nearly 70 percent of these new residents. New Hampshire, however, has posted net losses in population to several southern states, led by Florida, North Carolina, and Virginia.

Rockingham County and the New Hampshire Seacoast have kept pace with both population and employment growth in the state. From 1990 to 1999, the annual average population growth rate in Rockingham County was just over 1.0 percent, slightly above the statewide rate of 0.9 percent. Employment growth in Rockingham has outstripped the statewide rate during the current economic boom, with an annual average growth rate of 2.3 percent. The boom has not been interrupted, however, as both the state and the county stumbled slightly in 1995, then continued growing between 1996 and 2000.

The New Hampshire Office of State Planning issued projections in 1997 for each town and county in the state. According to these projections, Rockingham County will step up its growth during the next decade. Rockingham County is expected to add about 50,000 new residents between 2000 and 2010, an annual growth rate of about 1.6 percent, compared with the state’s total projected annual growth rate of 1.0 percent.


Population Profile and Trends

Profile of the Seacoast Towns

Hampton, with an estimated population of 13,496 in 1999, is the largest of the five towns collectively referred to in this report as the "Seacoast towns." By comparison, the cumulative 1999 population of the other four towns (Hampton Falls, North Hampton, Rye, and Seabrook) was 17,800. Over the past three decades, these five towns have experienced three population trends: steady growth, an increasing number of senior citizens, and sharp declines in household sizes. These three trends have helped contribute to increased demand for new residential construction, which is detailed later in this section.

Among the Seacoast towns, Hampton is most comparable with Seabrook in terms of household income, housing unit profile, homeownership, age breakdown, and housing profile. These two towns clearly lag behind the other three in income and homeownership, and are much younger and have many more multi-family housing units than the others. Hampton’s relationship with Seabrook is particularly important to Hampton Beach, as Seabrook is located adjacent to the beach area. The following points illustrate the differences between Hampton and Seabrook and the other three towns.

  • Average Household Income – Hampton Falls, North Hampton, and Rye are all between $87,000 and $95,000, compared with $59,600 for Hampton and $48,900 for Seabrook. The average income in Rye is skewed by its high concentration of very high-income households, though, as Rye’s median household income is just $3,000 greater than Hampton’s.
  • Housing Units – Only 55 percent of Hampton’s housing units and only 38 percent of Seabrook’s units are single-family units. By comparison, Hampton Falls, North Hampton, and Rye’s percentages are, respectively, 92, 75, and 84. Hampton has the highest concentration of multi-family units on the Seacoast at 40 percent, with Seabrook at 34 percent. The remaining 28 percent of Seabrook’s housing units are mobile homes.
  • Owner Occupancy – Since Hampton and Seabrook have such low percentages of single-family homes, it follows that they also have low homeownership rates. Hampton actually has the lowest percentage of homeownership (65.9 percent), as the mobile homes in Seabrook accounts for its 70.5 percent rate. The other three towns’ rates all exceed 80 percent, with Hampton Falls at nearly 95 percent.
  • Hampton and Seabrook have much younger populations than the other three towns, as more than 40 percent of the population of each town is under the age of 35.
  • The percentage of high-income households is much lower in Hampton and Seabrook, with 14.6 and 4.7 percent, respectively, of their households earning over $100,000 per year. The other towns’ rates are: Hampton Falls – 29 percent; North Hampton – 19 percent; and Rye – 21 percent.

The table below lists these key characteristics:


Table 12. Characteristics of Seacoast Towns




Hampton Falls

North Hampton


Average Household Income






Single Family Units as % of Total






Owner Occupied Units as % of Total






% of Population Under Age of 35






% of Households Over $100K







Population and Housing Trends and Projections

The New Hampshire Seacoast has been growing steadily since rebounding from population losses in the early part of the 1990s. From 1992 to 1999, Hampton added about 1,200 new residents, and the other four towns added just over 1,500 people. Overall, from 1990 to 1999, Hampton’s average annual growth rate was 1.1 percent, and the other towns averaged 1.0 percent.

Projections from the New Hampshire Office of State Planning forecast that Hampton and the other Seacoast towns will grow at an overall annual rate of about 1.4 percent between 2000 and 2010, led by Seabrook at 1.6 percent. During this period, Hampton is expected to add nearly 2,200 new residents, with the four other towns adding 2,900.

As previously mentioned, the combination of a growing population base, an aging population, and a declining average household size have all led to substantial new housing construction along the Seacoast. In total, 1,594 new housing units were built in the Seacoast towns between 1990 and 1998. During the same period, the Seacoast towns only added 2,230 new residents. In percentage terms, the number of housing units increased by 9.6 percent while population only increased by 7.8 percent.

Hampton has lagged in housing construction, with its 659 new units representing only a 7.7 percent increase. In comparison, Hampton Falls’ inventory grew by over 22 percent, North Hampton by 16 percent, and Seabrook by 11 percent. Only Rye at 6.8 percent added proportionally fewer units than Hampton. Still, largely due to its concentration of vacation homes, Hampton has more housing units (9,258) than the other four towns combined (8,933).

The vast majority (84.8 percent) of new housing units in the Seacoast towns are single-family units. Of the 659 new units in Hampton, 650 are single-family. Among the other units, only 7.2 percent are multi-family; the remaining 8.0 percent are mobile homes. Nearly all of the 110 new multi-family units are in Seabrook, as no other town gained more than five multi-family units.


Housing Price Trends (from New Hampshire Association of Realtors)

In 1999, there were 1,203 home sales in the Seacoast region, of which 68 percent were of single-family homes, 26 percent were multi-family homes, and six percent were mobile homes. Statewide, the breakdown was 77 percent single-family, 18 percent multi-family, and five percent mobile homes. Despite the fact that more multi-family and mobile home units were sold in the Seacoast, the average sale price was still substantially higher than the statewide average. In fact, the average fourth quarter 1999 home sale price in the Seacoast region was $243,000, nearly $100,000 greater than the statewide average of $151,000.

Home sale prices on the Seacoast have been rising substantially in the past three years; the average single-family price of $301,350 was 49 percent higher in the fourth quarter of 1999 than it was at the beginning of 1997, and the average multi-family price of $162,628 was 24 percent higher than three years earlier. While these figures were not available at the town level, the residential market in the Seacoast as a whole is clearly doing quite well.

The following chart illustrates prices in the Seacoast region from 1997 through 1999.


Employment Profile and Trends

Hampton and Rockingham County Overview

The economy in Hampton is largely based on tourism, with 42 percent of town wide employment concentrated in the Services sector and 32 percent in the Retail Trade sector. Retail Trade is the lowest paying employment sector per job. Only 10 percent of Hampton’s employment is in Manufacturing, and a mere two percent is in Transportation/Communications/Utilities (TCU); these are among the two highest paying sectors. Rockingham County, by comparison, has a far more diversified employment profile, with only 30 percent of its jobs in Services, 17 percent in Manufacturing, and 5 percent in the TCU sector.


Figure 20. Average Home Sale Price by Quarter

Average Home Sale Price by Quarter

Employment in the town’s two largest sectors, Services and Retail Trade, is heavily concentrated in a few subsectors. Nearly 19 percent of Services jobs in Hampton are in the Hotels and Lodging Places category, a figure that far exceeds the statewide average of 5.7 percent. Despite the area’s dependence on tourism, almost 28 percent of Hampton’s Services jobs are in the Engineering, Accounting, and Research Services sector. Another surprising statistic is that only 7.2 percent of Hampton’s Services employment is in Amusement and Recreation Services, a figure equal to that of Rockingham County. In Retail Trade, the overwhelming majority of jobs (60 percent) are for Eating and Drinking Places, compared with 28.2 percent for the county as a whole. Hampton is severely lacking in retail goods stores, as it has no general merchandise stores and is below both state and county employment levels in furniture, apparel and accessories, building materials, and miscellaneous retail.

Employment in Hampton followed state and regional trends throughout the 1990s, with losses in the early part of the decade, strong gains from 1992 to 1994, slight losses in the middle 1990s, and a rebound in the late 1990s. Overall, the Town of Hampton added 330 new jobs during the 1990s, despite losing over 200 jobs between 1990 and 1992. In August 2000 7,590 people were employed in the Town of Hampton. However, since the town’s employment tends to peak in summer months due to seasonal employment, the figure dropped to 7,360 in September 2000.


Seasonality in Employment and Wages

Employment in both Hampton and Rockingham County varies heavily by season. As already noted, August is the peak employment month in Hampton, and the county follows a similar pattern. In July 2000, 158,280 people were employed in Rockingham County. By September, this number had fallen to 154,400. The increases in employment during the year are due to a larger labor force, not due to a reduction in resident unemployment. In fact, Rockingham’s highest unemployment rate during 2000 was in July. Its lowest monthly rate was in May, when some seasonal jobs begin but before most seasonal working residents arrive for the summer.

To gain further perspective on the seasonality issue, seasonal trends were examined in four key employment sectors that are typically affected by tourism-based economies. Since such detailed information was not available at the town level, this analysis only focuses on Rockingham County. The four industries examined were Food Stores, Hotels and Motels, Eating and Drinking Places, and Amusement and Recreation. The following figure depicts seasonal variations during 1997 and 1998.

Figure 21. Total Employment by Month in Tourism Industries

Total Employment by Month in Tourism Industries
  • Food Stores provide two types of insight. First, they typically serve as a strong indicator of the retail behavior of residents. Second, in tourist areas, they help demonstrate if visitors choose to dine out or to purchase food and prepare it in their lodging places. Clearly, food store employment in Rockingham County does not vary much by season and, if anything, it is slightly lower in the summer than in other times of the year.
  • Eating and Drinking Places are a good measure of total visitation, both daytrip and overnight, as nearly all visitors will eat at least one meal during their stay. This sector is affected very strongly by seasonal variations in visitation, as the difference in employment between the peak months of July and August and the off-season month of January is about 2,000 jobs, or 20 percent of the peak employment level.
  • Hotel and Motel employment typically varies greatly by season in tourism economies. While employment in this sector increases slightly in the summer months, it represents a variation of only a few hundred jobs in a county with over 150,000 total jobs. This employment category indicates that the New Hampshire Seacoast is more popular as a daytrip destination than as an overnight destination, a point that is reinforced by the tourism statistics discussed later in this section.
  • Amusement and Recreation varies the most of the four categories, with peak employment at about twice the off-season level. The high increase is due both to the increased number of people present in the summer months and to the winter closing of most amusement and recreation attractions, so even year-round residents cannot visit them in the off-season.

Another interesting seasonal measure to examine is wages, as seasonal jobs tend to be much lower paying than permanent jobs. The graph below depicts quarterly trends in average weekly wages for each of the four tourism employment categories. Overall, Eating and Drinking has the lowest wages and Amusement and Recreation has the highest. In all four categories, average wages are highest in the fourth quarter, and much lower in the second and third quarters.

Figure 22. Average Wages by Quarter in Tourism Industries

Average Wages by Quarter in Tourism Industries


Commuting Patterns

Commuting pattern data have not been collected since the 1990 Census, but it is reasonable to assume that the overall commuter profile has remained stable. In 1990, only 24 percent of employed Hampton residents worked in the town, which is far lower than Portsmouth’s ratio of 51 percent. Among out-commuters, 20 percent commuted to Portsmouth, 8.5 percent to Seabrook, and about 5 percent to Exeter, and North Hampton. About 30 percent of employed Hampton residents commute out of New Hampshire, primarily to Massachusetts. In fact, 5 percent of working Hampton residents commute all the way to Boston.

Among people employed in Hampton, one-third are residents of the town and two-thirds commute in. More than 80 percent of commuters live elsewhere in New Hampshire with Exeter, North Hampton, and Portsmouth as the top three towns of origin.

To restate, 76 percent of Hampton residents who work do not work in Hampton, and 67 percent of those who work in Hampton do not live in Hampton. Clearly, there is a mismatch between the residents of the town and the employment opportunities its economy offers.


Hampton Beach versus the Town of Hampton

The Town of Hampton contains eight Census block groups. For the purposes of this analysis, Hampton Beach is defined as the two small block groups situated in the southeast corner of the town (see Figure 23) with the following boundaries: to the north, Route 101; to the west, Brown Avenue and Ashworth Avenue; to the south, the Seabrook town boundary; to the east, the Atlantic Ocean. The map below shows the location of Hampton Beach within the context of the town. The organization of the block groups precludes isolating the North Beach area from the rest of the town, as its block group also includes substantial portions of Hampton’s inland area.

The permanent population of Hampton Beach is very small and much younger than the rest of Hampton. The beach area has about 1,000 year-round residents, 50 percent of whom are under the age of 35. The majority of housing units in Hampton Beach are renter-occupied (64 percent) compared with the town total of 32 percent. Income levels among Hampton Beach households are extremely low, as 70 percent of households earn less than $50,000 and only six percent earn over $75,000 per year.

In the 1990 Census, only 29 percent of the housing units in Hampton Beach were occupied year-round, compared with 59 percent for the whole town. Hampton Beach’s population is much larger in the summer, not just from visitors staying in hotels, but also from part-time residents. Another interesting characteristic of Hampton Beach residents from the 1990s Census was that they were generally new residents. Only 41 percent of permanent Hampton Beach residents in 1990 were permanent residents in 1985, and just 14 percent of new residents previously lived in New Hampshire.


Figure 23. Block Groups used in the Hampton Beach Project Area

Block Groups used in the Hampton Beach Project Area


Tourism in Seacoast Region

Tourism drives the local economy in Hampton, and it is extremely important to understand the dynamics of tourism in the area to understand the overall economic situation. This section examines data that characterizes visitation patterns to Hampton and the New Hampshire Seacoast in general.

In fiscal year (FY) 1998, about 25.1 million people visited New Hampshire, of whom 6.6 million visited the Seacoast region. Of the seven tourism regions in New Hampshire, the Seacoast region had the lowest level of overnight visitation, at about 21 percent of total visitation, representing just 1.4 million visits. For the other six regions, just under 40 percent of total visits were overnight. Not surprisingly, the average days per trip to the Seacoast was also the lowest in the state, at an average of 1.68 days, compared with 2.18 for the rest of the state. These averages include day-trippers, who are assumed to stay for one day each. Interestingly, for those who do stay overnight on the Seacoast, the average length of stay, 4.27 days, is the highest in the state. This is significant as it illustrates the vast difference in behavior between overnight and daytrip visitors.

Visitors to the Seacoast spend less per day than visitors to any other region in New Hampshire. In FY 1998, the average visitor to the Seacoast spent $52.61 per day, compared with the $61.82 average for the rest of the state, a difference of more than nine dollars per person per day. The Seacoast’s low per capita spending figure is an outgrowth of the lack of overnight visitation to the region, since lodging comprises a large share of visitor spending. The impact of overnight visitation becomes apparent when examining the average daily spending of visitors to the White Mountains, where 66 percent of visitors stay overnight. That region’s average per capita daily spending figure is $73.65, more than $20 greater than that of the Seacoast.

Another problem faced by the Seacoast region is its seasonality. More than 37 percent of all visits were in the summer, and 39 percent of visitor spending occurred in the summer quarter. Also, summer overnight visitors to the Seacoast stay far longer than visitors in any other season, with an average of 4.96 days, compared with the year-round average of 4.27 days. As a result, the summer accounts for 39 percent of annual visitor spending in the Seacoast region in FY 1998.

To examine the issue of seasonality further, data was collected on sales tax receipts from tourism industries (restaurants, food service, and hotel rooms) in Rockingham County from September 1999 through August 2000. Of the three, hotels were the most seasonal with receipts ranging from $134,000 in February to $778,000 in July, with July and August far above any other month. Restaurant receipts ranged from $1.9 to $3.2 million, but they rose more gradually, hitting $2.5 million in May, $2.9 million in June, before peaking in July and August. Food service receipts remained relatively steady for the whole year, always staying between $250,000 and $500,000. As with the food store employment issue discussed earlier, the lack of pronounced seasonality in this category shows that visitors to the Seacoast do not tend to buy groceries. This fact indicates two things: many residents probably leave town during summer months to avoid the influx of tourists, and most visitors are day-trippers who may go to restaurants but do not purchase groceries.


Property Value Issues

Property value in the Town of Hampton is largely concentrated in residential properties, with 80 percent of the town’s total taxable valuation coming from residential land and buildings. Among residential properties, multi-family units account for 40 percent of the total number of units, but only 23 percent of the total residential property value, since single-family units are more valuable per unit. The town’s commercial value is largely in office and retail properties, as only about 10 percent of its commercial value is for industrial properties. The total taxable property value of Hampton increased 10 percent from 1998 to 1999, with the increase attributable to rising residential values. During that one-year interval, commercial value actually declined by 7 percent.

The following figure illustrates the breakdown of property values in Hampton from 1999.


Figure 24. Property Values by Type in the Town of Hampton, 1999

Property Values by Type in the Town of Hampton, 1999


Profile of Comparable Beach Communities

In an effort to put Hampton Beach’s situation in a national context, both statistical and anecdotal information was researched regarding comparable beach communities in the eastern United States. The communities selected for comparison include Ocean City, Maryland; Old Orchard Beach, Maine; Daytona Beach, Florida; and Asbury Park, New Jersey. They were selected based on the following criteria: like Hampton Beach they are old and largely built-out communities, largely seasonal in nature, and have seen shifts in the characteristics of their visitors in recent years. .

This review contains two elements: a comparison of key demographic variations of these communities with "upscale" beach towns in close proximity, and profiles of how comparable beach communities have responded to related challenges. This review is intended to both illustrate the economic challenges facing Hampton Beach and provide suggestions for overcoming these challenges. The following table lists the comparable towns, their "upscale" counterparts, and their median household incomes, per capita incomes, and median housing values from the 1990 Census.


Table 13. Profile of Comparable Upscale and Downscale Beach Communitiess1


Median Household Income

Per Capita Income

Median Home Value

Hampton, NH




Rye, NH




Ocean City, MD




Rehoboth Beach, DE




Old Orchard Beach, ME




Kennebunkport, ME




Daytona Beach, FL




Ormond Beach, FL




Asbury Park, NJ




Point Pleasant Beach, NJ




1. The first beach community for each area is followed by an upscale beach community.


Demographic Variations of Comparable and Upscale Beach Towns

As the above table illustrates, the median household income, per capita income, and median housing value for Hampton and other similar beach towns is lower in all cases than the same values for their upscale neighbors. However, average income and home value figures alone do not illustrate the differences among these towns, as evidenced by quirks such as Ocean City and Rehoboth Beach having similar average per capita income levels and Hampton and Rye having similar median household incomes.

Many other considerations determine the quantitative differences between the two towns in the five pairs analyzed here. Among these considerations are age profile, income profile (not just average income), owner-occupancy levels, and home value profile. The sections below discuss each of these factors.


Age Profile

In all five pairs, the lower-end community has more residents under the age of 35 and fewer residents over 35. The most dramatic splits are in the 18-34 group, where Daytona Beach and Old Orchard Beach have nearly twice the percentage as Ormond Beach and Kennebunkport, respectively. At the top end of the range, all five upscale communities have significantly higher percentages of people over 55.


Income Profile

As previously mentioned, average income figures can be misleading, a fact demonstrated by the closeness of Ocean City and Rehoboth Beach’s average per capita income values and by Hampton and Rye’s comparable median household incomes. In the former case, Ocean City has a very high percentage of low-income households (82 percent), and a higher percentage of high-income households than Rehoboth Beach. The high concentration of top-end households inflates mean figures like per capita income; in this case median household income is a better measure. By this yardstick, Ocean City’s median income of $25,959 is significantly lower than Rehoboth’s figure of $31,538.

In the case of Rye and Hampton, median household income levels are low because Rye has nearly as high a percentage of households earning under $50,000 per year (59 percent) as Hampton (64 percent). However, Rye has a disproportionate number of very high-income households earning more than $150,000 per year. The combination of these factors produces a low median household income and a high average per capita income.


Owner Occupancy

A typical indication of economic improvement in a given area is a rising homeownership rate. It should not come as a surprise that, in all five cases, the upscale community has a higher homeownership rate than the downscale one. In fact, all five upscale communities’ rates are at least 10 percent above that of their neighbors, with the largest differences coming between Point Pleasant Beach (61 percent) and Asbury Park (24 percent), and Ormond Beach (77 percent) and Daytona Beach (47 percent).


Home Value Profile

As with income, examining a median figure for home value does not tell the whole story. For example, Ormond Beach has a median home value of only $91,600, compared with Daytona Beach’s median value of $62,000. However, upon examining the range of home values, it is evident that Ormond Beach has much higher property values. Nearly 85 percent of Daytona Beach’s housing units were valued under $100,000 in 1990, compared with just 61 percent for Ormond Beach. At the other end of the scale, six percent of Ormond Beach’s units were valued at $250,000 or more, compared with just two percent for Daytona Beach. This pattern is even more pronounced in communities with a higher percentage of housing units valued over $250,000, like Kennebunkport and Point Pleasant Beach.


Responses of Other Beach Communities

To gain a greater understanding of the issues affecting Hampton Beach, information was gathered on the responses of some comparable beach communities to their declining economic situations. Information was obtained on redevelopment activities in three comparable locations: Virginia Beach, Virginia; Daytona Beach, Florida; and Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. The responses of these beach communities have ranged from minimal infrastructure and aesthetic improvements to full-scale redevelopment efforts. The paragraphs below summarize the findings.


Virginia Beach, Virginia

Virginia Beach draws about 2.5 million visitors each year, generating $20 million in tax revenues. Beach-related tourism is therefore key to the city’s economic vitality. In 1988, the City of Virginia Beach recognized that it was losing market share and tourism to other locations because its infrastructure was falling into disrepair and its visual environment was growing increasingly unattractive. In response to these problems, the city spent $50 million on sidewalks and infrastructure improvements, and enacted a sign ordinance. In subsequent years, the city spent $125 million to expand and beautify its boardwalk area.

The City recently completed an Oceanfront Resort Area Concept Plan, a document that lays out a general approach to beachfront redevelopment. Key recommendations in the document included an approach that would rely more on public transit, thus mitigating the negative effects of automotive traffic. The plan also advised to concentrate public investment around areas where arterial roads intersect the beach area, since the resort area is 3.5 miles long and just two and a half blocks deep.

Another element of Virginia Beach’s strategy focused on ways to stimulate private development. In an effort to upgrade its image, the city engineered a public-private partnership agreement to build a full-service, four-star resort hotel on the beachfront featuring ground-level retail and parking for 800 cars. This project, which would be the first upscale hotel in the city, is currently under review, but has hit a legal snag. A group of local activists wants the redevelopment area to be a public park, and this group has sued the city over the use of the property.


Daytona Beach, Florida

In 1982, the City of Daytona Beach created the Main Street Redevelopment Area in the heart of its tourist zone, and used it as a springboard to improve its convention and leisure business. In 1986, the city opened the Ocean Center, a 225,000 square-foot meeting and convention facility that stimulated a great deal of tourism and development activity. Since then, the city has financed several road, bridge, streetscape, and transit improvements, and has entered into public-private development agreements for hotel, residential, and retail/entertainment projects. The total amount of public and private investment in the redevelopment area exceeds $350 million. During this process, the city’s Community Redevelopment Agency has used its powers of condemnation a number of times to facilitate redevelopment activity.

Recently, the city established a "traffic free zone" in the center of the beachfront area to create a more pleasant environment. Following this, the city issued a Request for Proposals (RFP) in August 2000 to solicit applications from developers to develop an 11-acre site along the boardwalk. The RFP mandates the inclusion of substantial amounts of retail and themed entertainment space, a full-service hotel of 150 rooms or more with meeting space, a parking structure, and a number of streetscape and transit improvements.


Myrtle Beach, South Carolina

The response to decline in Myrtle Beach has been minimal with the focus being on maintaining an attractive environment. Myrtle Beach has taken steps to protect its most valuable asset - its beach. The city has undertaken "renourishment" efforts that involve pumping sand from the ocean floor back onto the beach to address erosion threatening the shoreline. Renourishment efforts have occurred all along the city’s 20-mile shoreline.

In Myrtle Beach’s downtown area, the Downtown Redevelopment Association has focused on physical improvements to the commercial district. Several infrastructure-related projects have been undertaken, including streetscaping, the construction of parks, and other beautification efforts. However, few efforts have been targeted at the waterfront.


Impacts of Zoning on Economic Development in the Project Area

The zoning ordinance for the study area has a direct and fundamental impact on the potential for development and redevelopment, which in turn impacts the economic development opportunities. The zoning ordinance impacts development in three separate ways:

  • Development is restricted by overlay zoning for environmental concerns such as the floodplain management zone designations. However, these restrictions are based on natural resource conditions and are not expected to change land uses. They are not likely to change the potential development opportunities within the area.
  • The designation of allowed uses within each zoning district restricts the options for land uses within each zone. However, the spatial designation and separation of land uses is one of the basic tenets of zoning used to maintain property values by separating conflicting land uses such as commercial and residential. Consequently, for the most part, the designation of uses is not adverse to compatible development and growth.
  • The dimensional requirements within each zoning district that designate aspects of building and site dimensions such as height, bulk and coverage, limit the potential to increase the size, and consequent value, of properties. These requirements appear to be the main impediment of the zoning ordinance that affects the economic growth of Hampton Beach.


Impact of Dimensional Standards

The existing development within most of the study area is characterized as fully built out. As noted previously, the total existing building coverage is very high at about 40%. Data on the individual land use types also show the maximized nature of the development. While the commercial uses cover only 7 percent of the land area, they house one-third of the total building floor space in the area indicating a maximization of the floor area within the allowed zoning districts. In addition, many buildings exist as non-conforming when compared against the current dimensional requirements. Hence, a large number of variances have been requested from the appeals board.

The extremely high number of requested variances indicates that the zoning ordinance no longer allows the reinvestment desired, or even needed, by property owners within the study area. The Growth Management Ordinance exacerbates this situation by requiring conformance with the dimensional standards even though the average lot does not conform to the most recent dimensional standards. The required variances to make modifications to the property or building further adds to the property owner’s costs and schedule. Permitting time and costs can be a determinant in deciding whether to proceed on a certain project.


Related Impact on Land Use

The restriction on multi-family development within the Business Seasonal district presents other way the dimensional standards of the zoning ordinance impact potential redevelopment opportunities. The requirements limit new multi-family units from being built in Hampton Beach for the following reasons:

  • The average lot dimensions in the Hampton Beach areas are 50 wide by 100 feet deep. However, the minimum frontage, or width at the road, under the present regulations is 100 feet.
  • In addition, no units are allowed within 40 feet of another lot line or building and driveways must be at least 25 feet from the front of any building, which again conflict with the existing lot dimensions in the area.

While it may be possible to accumulate properties for a larger development project that meet the dimensional standards, this does not appear to be an option considered by the area’s property owners at this time. Consequently, when seeking new and reinvestment in the area, zoning ordinance standards should be considered a major impediment to promoting new economic development.


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