The Price of Liberty is Eternal Vigilance

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City Council, March 14

Hostile reaction to a possible 150 room hotel in Ansonborough
Carriage horses off street now at 95 degree temperature
Marc Knapp

There were two items of interest on yesterday’s agenda. The first was a public hearing over conveying Hayne Street to the owner of the two properties on either side. The second was a tweaking of the conditions under which carriage horses are allowed to operate. Both issues generated some strong feelings amongst the City’s citizenry.

The strong feelings about ceding Hayne Street were understandable – the action was a probable step to a 150 room hotel. And who wanted another large hotel in the hotel- crowded Market Street area? The strong feelings about tighter horse carriage rules were not so understandable. Their impact would be marginal. And indeed in our opinion, the real issue should be horse carriages in a growing adverse traffic and construction environment, not ambient temperature levels. And by the way, what happens to the horse carriage industry when the hotel/hotels abutting Hayne Street are built? Anson and Market Streets are where the carriages assemble to pick up passengers. The new hotel/s will front these streets and we don’t see a peaceful co-existence.

Considering the efforts of the current City administration to curb hotel construction, it is hard to understand the desire of the City to cede Hayne Street. (For the record, the street does not physically exist but it remains on the property maps. It divides the large property on Market Street and Anson Streets presently used as a parking lot). Under the old ordinance, the property would comprise two lots and two hotels of 50 rooms each could be built. If the lots are combined, a single hotel of 150 rooms could be approved. It seems that the City looks favorably upon this as the new owners would allow the placement of a transformer et al. on the property.

There were a lot of citizens opposed to the proposal, many from the Ansonborough neighborhood. Their reasons were predictable. Two new hotels, each of 50 rooms have been approved for the Market Street area. There was a third under consideration but the Board of Zoning Appeals was deliberating with concern over the traffic impact. Now the City was preparing the field for a 150 room hotel. Where was all the traffic generated going to go?

But it was more than just the traffic. What was all this hotel construction going to do to the historic integrity of the City and in particular, that of Ansonborough? Tourists came to Charleston for its history and ambience, not to see masses of hotels. The Preservation Society was one of those opposed to the ceding. “There was no public good, it was poor urbanism”. Interestingly, the Historic Charleston Foundation was not represented last night. It was largely responsible for the resuscitation of Ansonborough some 50 years ago.

Speakers also referred to the scale of a 150 room hotel and its overwhelming impact on the site. A hotel this size is about equal to the Dewberry Hotel on Meeting Street.

No vote was taken last night and the issue deferred. The developer is meeting with the neighborhood in an effort find commonality. If 150 rooms remains the developer’s objective, we doubt there will be an agreement.

Council last night voted to change the regulation limiting the conditions under which carriage horses could work. Under the previous regulation, horses had to be pulled off the street when temperatures reached 98 degrees. But there had to be two consecutive readings of 98 degrees or more, 15 minutes apart, before action was taken. The new ordinance reduces the critical temperature to 95 degrees but requires 4 consecutive readings, each 15 minutes apart. The new ordinance also requires horses off the street when the heat index reached 110 degrees, down from 125 degrees. (The heat index reflects both temperature and humidity and it is our understanding that the temperature limitation has always come into effect before the heat index limitation)

The new regulations were proposed by a City-formed Committee with representatives of the horse carriage industry, veterinarians, citizens, animal welfare groups and Council members. Notwithstanding, the regulation did not have an easy passage. Most citizens did not think it went far enough and some Council members thought it was unnecessary.

Firstly the critics. Lowering the temperature may be well and good, but taking the temperature on top of a building, as the City does now, was different from taking it at street level where it will be some degrees hotter. So take the temperature at street level and only once. No, said staff. We are not sure there is a significant difference between the readings at ground level and the top of the building but we need to easily access the temperature reading and for it to be independently verified. The City uses the Weatherbug service. The thermometer sits on top of a Market Street hotel and the readings are broadcast by satellite, accessible to anybody with the appropriate app. The thermometer cannot be located at ground level because of the impossibility of satellite communication. And besides, the CIty has accumulated a lot of data and has been able to correlate temperature data from Weatherbug with internal temperature of horses. To move the thermometer would make it difficult to correlate future readings with already gathered data.

There were representatives of the horse carriage industry in attendance. Although the industry was represented on the Committee, and the representative voted for the new regulation, speakers from the industry wondered if the new regulations were necessary. Indeed, it seemed they supported it only to placate their opponents. Yes, there had be incidents over recent years involving carriage horses, but none were heat related. The carriage companies took very good care of the animals. In the hot weather, the internal temperature of horses was monitored and a horse was taken out of service if its temperature exceeded 103 degrees. Indeed, was it not in the industry’s interest to take good care of the animals?

This theme was taken up by some Council members, particularly Council members Moody and Waring. They noted the absence of heat related incidents and the good record of the companies. The improvement that the new regulation would create was only marginal. But they added that the carriage industry was a cluster of small businesses and they contributed to the City’s economy. They needed encouragement not discouragement. As Council member Moody opined, the industry was suffering “a death by a thousand cuts”.

We’ll close by echoing Council member White who served on the Tourist Commission for 9 years. This ordinance will not bring the two sides of the horse carriage issue together – some folk want horses off the roads totally and will continue to fight against any ordinance.

And finally, we side with the three Council members who opposed the new regulation. But we will add, that to say no horse has died for excessive heat, as some Council members said, is not a good argument in favor of the existing regulations. There is usually a lot of stress before death occurs. A regulation should be designed to prevent undue stress, not just death! We think the old regulations did this. Obviously, the new regulation will do it better but only marginally so but at some opportunity-cost for the horse carriage industry.

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