Asheville City Council voted to put horse-drawn carriage tours out to pasture with its repeal of an ordinance that permitted commercial carriages downtown. At its April 26 meeting, Council also approved a franchise license that will allow Asheville’s only current carriage operator, Catherine Hunter, to continue her business for two years.
Spurred by pleas from animal rights activists, Council had been monitoring the 1990 carriage tour ordinance since Hunter began offering carriage tours in 2013. According to a city staff memo prepared for Council, no accidents or substantiated complaints have been recorded since Hunter launched the service.
Nonetheless, animal advocates pointed to increased vehicular traffic downtown, congestion and other safety concerns as reasons why horse-drawn carriages no longer make sense in an urban setting. The activists also said they view horse-drawn carriages as similar to animal circus performances, which are now banned in Asheville. Council’s repeal of the carriage ordinance, one advocate said, represents an “evolution away from using animals for entertainment purposes,” and she urged Council to stop the practice immediately by denying a franchise agreement.
While Council members Brian Haynes and Cecil Bothwell advocated for limiting the new franchise license to one year, Council member Keith Young proposed extending the transitional period to three years. While he appreciates the animal advocates’ concerns, Young explained, “You are asking us to take away a person’s income without giving them the ability to transition into another life.” To balance the longer term of operation, Young suggested making the license non-transferrable, meaning that Hunter would not be able to sell the business.
Nine members of the public spoke in opposition to carriage horse businesses, while only Hunter and community activist Brother Christopher Chiaromonte spoke in favor of continuing to allow commercial carriage rides downtown.
“Horses are what I know,” said Hunter. “It’s been my pleasure to bring these animals in contact with people who otherwise wouldn’t encounter them.” After thanking city staff for their efforts to help her navigate the city’s ordinance, Hunter continued: “People who are against horse-drawn carriages are well-intentioned, but they are misinformed. Horses love to work. They are good at it…They love the attention they get downtown.”
In the end, Mayor Esther Manheimer said Council’s decision came down to “…trying to strike a careful balance between transitioning away from this activity and sensitivity to a small business owner.” Council voted unanimously to approve a non-transferrable two-year franchise agreement. Because all franchise agreements require two hearings before Council, Hunter must appear at Council’s May 10 meeting for a final vote. Assistant City Attorney Jannice Ashley also pointed out that the city can terminate the agreement at any time with cause.
For more information about Hunter, her business and the positions of the animal advocates who oppose horse-drawn carriages, please see our article from October 30, 2015.
Additional coverage of the April 26, 2016 meeting of City Council: