Carriage tour company reins in protest over city's temporary eviction

May 22, 2009 

The owners of SouthurnRose Buggy Tours owners backed away from a confrontation Friday with city of Beaufort officials over their displacement from the Downtown Marina parking lot.

But Peter and Rose White reiterated their frustration with the order to relocate their horse carriages during this weekend's Gullah Festival, adding that their frustration has nothing to do with the festival itself.As promised, the Whites hitched one of their blue carriages to the back of a truck and parked it on Bay Street in front of downtown retailer Lulu Burgess on Friday morning and were quickly ticketedby Beaufort police officers before they were able to park a second carriagein front of Lipsitz Shoe Store.

"We had two police officers waiting on us when we got there," Peter White said. "We were on the phone with our lawyer at the time, and we just decided that we had made our point, and we would move the carriages rather than having them towed."

Beaufort Police Chief Matt Clancy said the Whites were ticketed because they violated a city ordinance banning the carriages from being parked anywhere other than in designated areas.

"There is a specific ordinance regarding where they'll allowed to park their carriages, and that's not one of them," he said. "They have to be parked in certain areas. They can't just park them in any parking spot downtown."

White said he interpreted the ordinance to mean that the since the carriages are licensed vehicles, they could be parked in public spots downtown as long as they are not in operation.

White said the ticket could range in price from $250 to $1,050. The Whites will appear in Beaufort Municipal Court on June 25.Police on Thursday forced White and his wife to move their horse-drawn carriages from their regular spot in the Downtown Marina parking lot to Newcastle Street as Gullah Festival organizers began setting up. Gullah Festival organizers paid to use the city-ownedlotWhite said the move to Newcastle cuts into his business during what should be one of the most lucrative weekends of the year. In the past, the horse carriages moved to Bay Street near the clock tower, but Beaufort City Council members and Walter Gay, owner of Beaufort's other horse buggy company, Sea Island Carriage Co., say the Bay Street location isn't safe for the the horses or passengers.

"It's not really about the Gullah Festival; it's about the City Council working to try to kick carriages out of (Henry C. Chambers) Waterfront Park and eventually out of Beaufort altogether," he said.

The tour companies pay about $26,000 each a year, plus a business license fee, for the city's two horse carriage slots, White said. An ordinance requires the city to provide an adequate staging area for both at all times.

Gay said he wasn't happy that the city moved the carriages out of the marina parking lot, and said he'll make his concerns known to the City Council after the Gullah Festival is over.

"Having us on Newcastle Street confuses the merchants downtown who don't know where to tell people to go and it confuses the horses," he said. "It's not the best scenario, but I don't have a better solution at this time. We never should have had to move and once we get through this weekend, I'll start dealing with that."

White said Friday that business on Newcastle Street has been slow.

"We've had no walk-ups and walk-ups account for about 60 percent of our business," he said.

The carriage companies are expected to return operations to the marina parking lot on Monday following the end of the Gullah Festival on Sunday afternoon.

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