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MARCO ISLAND — Cinderella's carriage got approved by the City of Marco Island Planning Board on Friday, but first they had to wade through some horse manure.
The board took a petition by Marco Horse Drawn Carriages, Inc., to establish a business on the island providing scenic rides behind a pair of horses. As presented by president Ellen McKinney and vice president Michael Riddle, the operation will focus on the hotel district along the beach, offering carriage rides for weddings, special occasions, and anyone who wants a unique, slow-speed look at Marco Island.
"We're trying to bring to the island that 'wow' factor," said McKinney. "On your 60th anniversary, we want your wife to say, 'you did that for me?' when the carriage pulls up."
"It's a seasonal business," said Riddle. "Once the temperature reaches 89 degrees, we will not work our horses."
The business proposes using two carriages. One, with a tracery of white cagework and hearts, straight out of Disney's "Cinderella," was sitting outside the council chambers where the Planning Board was meeting.
McKinney said they had signed letters of intent with businesses including the Marco Island Marriott, Marco Walk Plaza and the Old Marco Pub, and were pursuing agreements with others including the Hilton Hotel, the Snook Inn and the Esplanade. The horses and the carriages would not be stabled on the island, but would work out of two on-island staging areas at 954 Park Avenue and 900 Bald Eagle Drive, said the proprietors, and this caused many of the adverse public comments that were heard.
"If this were the season, I could get 200 signatures against this," said Ned Guthrie, on the board of directors at the Riverside Condo, near the north staging area.
"When a horse stops, that's when they urinate," said D.M. Kane, opposing the petition. He read a lengthy prepared statement, warning against extreme traffic backups, congested roads, as well as urine and horse manure, which he said the operators' proposed collection bags could not be counted on to eliminate.
"The excrement, the smell, horseflies, disease, litter" all would contribute to a lowering of property values around the staging areas, he said.
Each carriage would carry two employees, and the attendant (with the other employee being the driver) would pick up any manure which escaped, said Riddle. This prompted concerns about safety, with a person cleaning up the street in front of the inevitable traffic behind the carriage. They would be sensitive to causing congestion, and pull over to allow traffic to pass if it got too congested behind them, said the company principals.
The operators said their primary staging area would be near Veterans' Community Park, with the northern location only a backup, for instance during events at the park, but this was not enough to mollify the nearby residents, or, as it turned out, the board.
When they voted on the proposal, they imposed numerous conditions, including a review next May, after the tourist season, which could revoke the company's permission to operate. On a 5-0 vote, they also approved only the Park Avenue/Bald Eagle staging location, although they did grant longer operating hours than had been requested.
"People exaggerate the problems" that a new idea will cause, said board member Marv Needles, arguing to give the operation a try.
"It's cute, but I see traffic issues," said new board member Max Peterhans. After the meeting, McKinney was asked what "cruising speed" for the carriages would be. After a couple tries, she said they would travel between five and 15 mph. The company has also initiated talks about placing the operation in Naples, if the Marco location doesn't work out.
After the members of the public who had attended for parking issues departed, the Community Room audience was divided into supporters of Marco Horse Drawn Carriages, on the right side of the room, and the detractors, sitting apart on the left. Each group applauded speakers who supported their point of view.
With approval in hand, the Horse Drawn Carriage team gathered outside around Cinderalla's carriage, and just hope the one-year review doesn't turn it into a pumpkin.