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Good looks get council's vote


© St. Petersburg Times, published March 23, 2000

NEW PORT RICHEY -- Aesthetic concerns took center stage in two recent council decisions that speak to New Port Richey's look and atmosphere.

In a marathon meeting Tuesday night, council members cast the first of two votes to allow horse-drawn carriage rides downtown over the objections of several animal rights advocates. They also denied a request by a seniors housing complex to be exempt from requirements to screen its outdoor trash bins.

An application by a Hudson couple, Brad and Kelly Purtlebaugh, to give carriage rides around the city has sparked a sheaf of protest letters to officials since January. Tuesday night, both opponents and operators got to air their concerns before the council, which ultimately was convinced by the Purtlebaughs' willingness to accept regulations.

"I like the attitude the council people took," Brad Purtlebaugh said after the meeting. "It seems they saw through a lot of the rhetoric and saw whether it was or was not good for the city." Norma McMillan, former chairwoman of the Carriage Horse Action Committee, came from Bradenton to protest. "Horses don't understand the sights and sounds of traffic and have been known to spook and run away," McMillan said. "Many cities around the nation have banned carriage horses, and I hope this city will follow."

In addition to the safety concerns, McMillan and other opponents told council members, the horses would suffer from the heat and exhaust fumes and from sharing crowded roads with cars and walking on the pavement.

Opponents also criticized the ordinance as vague and difficult to enforce. But council members addressed some of those concerns by raising the required insurance coverage to $1-million and requiring carriage operators to outline their routes and watering schedules.

Council member Frank Parker said he would support the measure if the ordinance would "restrict the days, hours and areas of operation and raise the insurance coverage."

Several business owners with whom Purtlebaugh is planning a fundraiser for Hernando-Pasco Hospice turned out to testify to his character and to say he would never abuse his two horses.

The measure passed unanimously.

"I'm glad that reason and sanity carried the day there" Purtlebaugh said.

For their part, the activists said they planned to speak out again when the ordinance comes up for final approval April 4.

Another aesthetic concern that drew attention Tuesday was whether the seniors who live at Southgate apartments would be required to shield their outdoor trash bins from public view. About 50 residents turned out to speak against the requirements that the bins be screened on three sides and gated in front. They also submitted letters and a petition signed by 110 of Southgate's 135 residents arguing they should be exempt from the rules.

Among their fears: Residents would be unable to open the gates, they might fall inside the enclosures, and undesirable people might hide inside.

"They don't adapt easily to change, and they're content with the simplicity and ease of the Dumpsters the way they work now," said Southgate spokesman Ed Worrell.

But the council voted 3-2 to deny Southgate a variance from the requirements, noting that several other senior complexes had complied with the law.

Mayor Peter Altman suggested that the complex install a system in which garbage could be shoved through a "doggy door" in the side of the enclosure and fall directly into the trash bin.

The residents expressed their displeasure with the ruling as they left the meeting.

"We'll remember at election time," one person called out, though none of the council members who voted to deny the variance are up for re-election in April. "Wait till you get old and have to deal with this," said another.

"I'll have a doggy door in my Dumpster," Altman said.

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