WEST JEFFERSON — A horse hitching post for the popular horse drawn wagon tours offered by Rabbit Trails of West Jefferson brought about a nearly one-hour public comment session at Monday’s Board of Aldermen meeting.
Property owner Ellen Phipps, who owns the building where the horse hitching post is scheduled to be placed (near the current Ashe County Chamber of Commerce), shared her dismay regarding the town’s decision to put the set up there.
“I’m very disappointed in the decision that you gentlemen made in creating a hitching post in front of my building. If that was the only place in town to put a hitching post, it would be different, but this town is full of plenty of places to put a hitching post,” Phipps said addressing the West Jefferson town aldermen.
Phipps followed that up by suggesting putting the hitching post in front of town hall since the building is hardly used on the weekends.
“On my side of the street, I’m trying to make a living. I’ve got people I have to be concerned about as tenants that really don’t want a hitching post in front of their building they’re trying to sell retail stuff out of,” Phipps added.
Rabbit Trails of West Jefferson previously rented a space from Phipps, but due to the struggles of their shop, James and Debbi Pucci decided to abandon a brick and mortar storefront for their horse drawn carriage rides.
“I asked Brantley (Price) what was going on, he told me there has been a hitching post designated over there,” Phipps said. “That was the first I heard of it. Well now I can understand why he (James) gave me a notice that he was leaving. The city, the aldermen, the mayor and whoever is involved with the decision making was going to give him a space in front of the building I’ve paid $54,000 for the last 15 years in taxes, it was going to become a free space for him to make his living. What kind of business sense is that?” Phipps said.
Phipps also said that she does have a potential tenant to lease the empty space, assuming that something can be done in regards to moving the proposed hitching post.
James and Debbi Pucci were in attendance as well and shared their side of the story and why the proposed horse hitching post should stay where it is planned to be at.
“I regret the feelings displayed here tonight,” James Pucci said. “That (spot) was designated by this board as a carriage stand a year ago when we first came here. It was reported by all of the newspapers. I did go and request to put in a hitching post, but that had nothing to do with leasing or continuing to lease that building. We decided not to lease it again because the store did not make money. The horses made money, but the store didn’t.”
James continued on, saying that you can look at the argument both says with the horse and carriage.
“The concern was that it’s going to block the store front, but the other side of that is it’s actually attracting people to the store front,” Pucci said. “You could park two trucks out there in front of that store and not see it, or you can have a couple of horses sitting there and then they’re out on a ride for a half hour and the whole space is empty and everybody can see it. That wouldn’t happen otherwise.”
Pucci said the reason the area in question was chosen also dealt with its layout, not simply because the Puccis were renting a nearby space.
“When the state did the Streetscape, that jut out right there is different than the rest,” Pucci said. “It was actually designated as a loading zone by the state designed for a truck to be able to pull in and pull out.”
The Puccis also shared a petition with the aldermen with several residents, business owners and business employees that had signed it supporting the location for the hitching post and carriage rides.
James closed his comment period by pointing out that the actual amount of time that the horse and carriage is in front of the building during a calendar year is not very much.
“The best case scenario is six months out of the year, you take every Friday and Saturday for six months and then you factor in the weather, we might be out there 15 to 30 days a year. The max would be nine hours a whole weekend Friday evening and Saturday afternoon,” he said. “We’re not getting rich by doing it by any means, but I think the value for the town is potentially unlimited. It attracts more people to the down and everyone benefits from that. The town does, the stores do, the restaurants do.”
West Jefferson Mayor Dale Baldwin said that the board would take both sides under consideration. The hitching post has yet to be placed.
Nathan Ham can be reached at 336-489-3062.