Critics holler 'whoa!' on Bluffton horse carriage proposal

Bluffton resident Scott Corkern vows to fight a proposal that would bring horse-drawn carriages to old town.The May River Road resident says he doesn't want horses in downtown traffic, stinking up old town or working in hot weather. So he is assembling a coalition of friends and neighbors to try to stop the town from adopting regulations for carriages, a necessary step before a Bluffton couple can get their tour company up and running.

"Lots of friends of mine are horse people, and none of them have any love for the carriage trade," Corkern said.

Alan and Kay Ulmer, who own Buckingham Plantation Stables, said animal safety would be their top priority in operating the Old Town Carriage Co. Kay Ulmer would be the primary driver

"We're not coming here to make millions," said Alan Ulmer, whose family's Bluffton roots stretch back generations. "We think it would bring something special to Bluffton."

Town council had planned to give a first reading Tuesday to an ordinance to regulate horse-drawn carriages. However, after Corkern and another resident objected to the idea during the meeting, council members postponed a vote until after a public workshop Nov. 9. The measure requires two readings.

Council members asked for several changes to the ordinance, including stricter enforcement on sanitation and safety of the animals.

"Listening to public comment makes me a little bit concerned; there were some things that were spoken of that I really didn't think of," councilman Fred Hamilton said.

Bluffton Police Chief David McAllister, who wrote the ordinance after researching rules in Savannah, Charleston and Beaufort, is amending it based on council's concerns. The ordinance as it stands states that only two carriage companies could operate in Bluffton, although it does not limit carriages on the road at any one time. No route or stops are planned.

McAllister said he recognizes the charm and potential tourist draw of the carriage tours but would not sacrifice public safety just to drum up business. There are about 100 automobile accidents a month within town limits already, he said.

McAllister also said assigning an officer to see that the regulations are being followed could be problematic. He said a police officer in the city of Beaufort charged with regulating tour companies works nearly full-time monitoring the two carriage companies there. The proposed ordinance would put the town's special-events coordinator in charge of inspections and enforcement."The Ulmers are a long-standing family devoted to their animals -- they're not the ones I'm concerned about," McAllister said. "It's the more unscrupulous companies who might come along who may not be as devoted."