Plan would limit tours in Charleston neighborhoods

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CHARLESTON, S.C. -- The City Council here gave initial approval to a tourism ordinance reducing the hours that bus, carriage and walking tours can operate in residential neighborhoods.

Historic CharlestonIn addition, the ordinance restricts the number of buses allowed to tour Charleston's historic district.

The City Council vote was 8-4. Final approval is expected on Sept. 22. The vote came despite a lobbying effort by the Charleston Tour Association and business owners, who argued that the changes would severely affect their bottom lines. Industry officials had urged the council to postpone the vote until a new city traffic and parking study was completed in two months.

The council vote came after a 30-member volunteer committee, organized last September, presented its findings on how Charleston could better balance tourism with residents' quality-of-life concerns.

The tourism ordinance would:

  • Limit the number of people in walking tours to no more than 20.
  • Reduce the number of large buses touring at one time from eight to six.
  • Limit the hours that walking, bus and carriage tours can operate in residential neighborhoods from the current 8 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. to 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Daylight Savings Time, 5 p.m. Eastern Standard Time.
  • Lee Tortorici, the business manager at Palmetto Carriage Works, said the new rules would hit carriage companies the hardest and cut into her company's profits by as much as 20%. "The late twilight hour is an extremely popular time for leisure and business visitors to tour residential Charleston by carriage, and now they won't be able to do that," Tortorici said, referring to the new operating hours.

    Industry officials complained that the new rules come at a time when tourism-related businesses in Charleston already are bearing a heavy tax burden. In the case of carriage companies, the seven firms doing business in Charleston have seen their tourist taxes soar by 500% in the last five years, said Tortorici.

    Marvin Katzen, president of Doin' the Charleston Tours, a motorcoach company, said the new rules would cost him 25% of his business during peak season. "Unlike other tour markets, all of the tourism businesses in Charleston are privately owned companies. We're all honest people trying to make an honest living, and we're going to suffer," Katzen said.

    Ironically, the new rules may actually create more traffic in the historic district, Katzen said. "I take people on my buses who would normally drive cars into that area," Katzen said.

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