Unstable situation Rule forces company to relocate horses

Shane Reidy (left) and Steve Martin greet the horse Carolina at the Carolina Polo and Carriage Co. on Hayne Street Wednesday.

Grace Beahm

This is the story of how a distance of 6½ feet almost forced a Charleston carriage company out of business.

Starting Saturday, Carolina Polo and Carriage Co. will have to house its animals each night far from downtown after officials ruled the stable it planned to move into is too close to houses.

The site, at 45 Pinckney St., is 93.5 feet from the nearest residential zone district. A city restriction requires that stables be at least 100 feet away to operate legally.

The distance — just a nudge over two yards — means that to continue downtown, Carolina Polo has decided to keep its seven draft horses about 2.5 miles away in a former police barn. Cost: $5,000 per month.

Carolina Polo owner Robert Knoth said this week his business will make do by trailering his stock into the tourism district each day, and then taking them back out again each night.

His attorney, meanwhile, said the situation has put Carolina Polo “in between a rock and a hard place.”

“This is the lifeblood and the livelihood of an extended family,” said Charleston lawyer Capers Barr, pointing to the 15 or so tour guides and stable hands who work for the 23-year-old business.

Also part of the equation is the smell that horses produce.

The site the tour company wanted to move to is next to the Andrew Pinckney Inn, something that could affect guests if the scent became malodorous.

“Who would want to stay there?” asked Councilman Aubry Alexander. “How much longer would that hotel be in business?”

The issue dates back months. Carolina Polo is one of five carriage companies that operate downtown by annually carrying thousands of tourists along Charleston’s Colonial streets.

After the company’s lease at 16 Hayne St. wasn’t renewed, though, Knoth had to look elsewhere.

He found an alternative stable that was directly behind him, at 45 Pinckney. He thought the site had been cleared by the city’s zoning department to move in. Only it wasn’t. He was denied on two occasions requests for a special exemption and a variance from the city’s Board of Zoning Appeals-Zoning.

Faced with no place to go, Charleston City Council this week approved a month-to-month agreement with Carolina Polo where the company would use the police department horse stables, hay barn and paddocks adjacent to Hampton Park. The animals will feed there, sleep there and be housed there overnight.

The only activity they will be allowed to do downtown at Pinckney Street is to take on water and to load and unload passengers.

Knoth’s employees this week were busy dismantling what they had at their old Hayne Street offices. Barr, meanwhile, said they are considering an appeal, which would probably send the issue toward Circuit Court.