Caucus members on the rail over H2J riding school
Woody Creek Caucus members were uncharacteristically split in their reaction to a huge riding school facility proposed in the neighborhood.
The 90-by-200 foot riding arena would be used by the H2J Riding School, operated by Joyce Witte and Heidi Stuckens on Aspen Valley Ranch property owned by Mary Jane Garth.
A majority of the caucus members opposed the project in a meeting Wednesday because it is a commercial use, which is forbidden by the Woody Creek Master Plan. But a significant number of dissenters expressed hope there would be a way to accommodate the school’s building.
The Pitkin County Planning and Zoning Commission recommended approval of the project on Jan. 19.
Witte said the H2J school, which now operates outdoors at the ranch, loses some two-thirds of its participants in the winter because it has no winter facilities. The school, which teaches riding and complete horse care, has been in operation for five years. The camp moved to Aspen Valley Ranch two years ago.
“Our primary goal is to offer this instruction on a year-round basis,” Witte said.
Garth has offered to make 20 acres available to the school with a favorable long-term lease. Donna Harper, a second-home owner whose daughter participates in the school, has offered financing to back construction of the arena.
Woody Creek Planning Commission member Jim Collins said Pitkin County estimates the business would generate between 50 and 200 auto trips per day to and from the arena. He said the planning commission recommended denial of the application because the school doesn’t conform with Woody Creek’s master plan.
Caucus member Oliver Treibick, of Lenado, expressed doubts about the plan. He asked what would happen if the investor decided to pull the funding, suggesting that a less desirable use might end up on the site.
When Treibick asked Stuckens if they had looked for other areas for the arena, she said they had unsuccessfully approached the city of Aspen about using land at Aspen’s Cozy Point Ranch.
Witte noted that Aspen bought Cozy Point with the intent of using the property for the greater good of the community. But, she said Cozy Point has become more like an exclusive club.
Caucus member Barbara Ornitz echoed Treibick’s concern that if the backing fell through, a huge commercial building would remain. But Ornitz said she had regrets about opposing the project on the basis of the caucus master plan.
“Your business is an excellent idea,” Ornitz said. “It’s good for youth, and we support that.” But she said the caucus has to look 20 years into the future and consider any possible changes that may take place.
“If we start making exceptions, we end up with a commercial core,” she predicted.
A caucus member asked if the property could be deed restricted so that the use could not change later. “We don’t have all the answers because we’ve just heard some of the questions for the first time,” responded H2J’s attorney.
Ed Bastian, caucus moderator, asked if the applicants could meet with planning commission members to work out some of the problems. Collins indicated the prohibition on commercial uses could not be circumvented.
“I’m afraid you’re asking us to abrogate the Woody Creek Master Plan,” Collins said.
Caucus members voted 13-to-6 to recommend the county deny the project.
“I have a feeling this is going to come around again,” Bastian said. The caucus prefers to act by consensus, he said.
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