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MUCH A-DOO ABUT NOTHING

Downtown carriage drivers say their, uh, stuff doesn't stink.

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"Lately, talk downtown has centered around the bathroom habits of horses.

Citing complaints from downtown restaurant owners and patrons, the Memphis City Council voted last week to pass an ordinance prohibiting horse-drawn carriages from lingering within 100 feet of eateries. According to city council chairman Rickey Peete, the ordinance originally called for a restriction of 200 feet but was amended in favor of the carriage operators.

But carriage owners and operators say that the new ordinance will hurt their business.

"There's a whole bunch of little dictators down at City Hall," says David Sydnor, owner of the American Chariot carriage company. "I didn't know they could do something like this in America. If they want to go ahead with this, we're going to sue them."

But Peete, who is also president of the Beale Street Merchants Association, says this is an issue of hygiene, not just business.

"A restaurant ought to be able to tell you if they want you to park your funky-ass horse in front of their restaurant or not," says Peete. "These carriage owners want it to be like Burger King; they want to have it their way. They want it to stay the same, but it's not going to stay the same. If a restaurant wants to smell that stuff, they can petition City Hall for a variance. If all the restaurants say they want the carriages, we'll change the ordinance."

Sensitive to what he viewed as an attack on his horses, Sydnor was at City Hall last week to administer what he termed the "The Rickey Peete Challenge." Passersby were offered a free carriage ride if they could determine which of the 10 flower boxes in Sydnor's carriage was filled with manure. The other nine were filled with potting soil. According to Sydnor, the only council member to accept the challenge was Tajuan Stout Mitchell -- and she failed.

"Every carriage driver out there carries Lysol, antibacterial soap, and Febreeze," says Sydnor. "Our horses wear diaper bags and we Febreeze the manure in the bags. I'd be willing to bet that our manure smells better than that of anyone at City Hall. We Febreeze ours."

Peete says the ordinance is necessary and claims it will not affect customers at places like The Peabody, since it applies only if the principal business is a restaurant. Sydnor, however, raises a question not yet addressed by the council.

"What if one restaurant wants carriages to come by but the one next to it doesn't? How close can we come then?" asks Sydnor. "A horse is like a big, warm sky giving you a lick. People like to see the horses and to pet them. They make people smile. They're like hugs and having them around is a nice thing for everybody."

But Peete and the other council members apparently aren't interested in equine hugs and licks. For them, all the controversy surrounding the carriage ordinance is baffling.

"Nobody is asking these carriages not to drop off or pick up people. That's misinformation," says Peete. "Their major concerns have all been addressed. It's much ado about nothing."

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