Equestrian arena in Woody Creek wins nod at P&Z
A huge indoor riding arena for the Woody Creek neighborhood won preliminary approval from the Pitkin County Planning and Zoning Commission on Tuesday.The 90-by-200-foot arena would be used by the H2J Riding School, operated by Joyce Witte and Heidi Stuckens on the Aspen Valley Ranch property owned by Mary Jane Garth.According to Witte, the H2J school loses perhaps two-thirds of its participants in the winter because it presently has no winter facilities.The school, which teaches not only riding, but complete horse care, has been in operation for five years and moved to Aspen Valley Ranch two years ago, Witte said. During the winter, she said, about one-third of the participants generally quit altogether, about one-third ride elsewhere, and the remainder endure winter conditions outdoors at the school.Garth, whom Witte described as a strong supporter of the school, 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 come forward as an investor in the construction of the arena, Witte said.”What’s keeping it affordable is Mary Jane Garth allowing us to use the land,” Witte told the P&Z. Under Garth’s arrangement with H2J, she would own the arena after 18 years. The facility would be paid off at that time.The building, designed by architect Greg Register, would contain 30 stalls, a tack room, a wash stall, a classroom, offices, and two employee housing units, along with an unheated indoor riding arena.The P&Z voted to grant approval to the project under the complex Growth Management Quota System, giving the project a score of 37 as recommended by county planning staff members. A score of at least 36.6 is necessary for a project to go forward.Under GMQS, the county limits new commercial development so that 43 or fewer new employees are generated annually. If more than 43 full-time employees are to be generated by projects that come before the P&Z in a year’s time, the projects must compete with each other for approval.But this year, only the H2J project and Aspen Skiing Co.’s Sundeck restaurant and club proposal for Aspen Mountain came before the county. Together, they generate fewer than 43 employees.But, while there is no competition for approval, the projects are still scored for impacts.The P&Z gave its preliminary approval for the arena after some discussion of environmental and safety factors. Tamara Pregl, a county planner, noted that wildfire, wildlife, drinking water, and septic issues had been considered, and that Fire Marshal Ed Van Wallraven had recommended a sprinkler system for the building.P&Z members voted unanimously to recommend approval by the Board of County Commissioners, noting a few issues yet to be resolved.Close to 20 citizens showed up for the public hearing before the P&Z. Many, including several children involved with the riding school, spoke in favor of the project.No neighborhood opposition was voiced Tuesday, but Pregl said the Woody Creek Caucus will discuss the matter at its Jan. 27 meeting. Pregl said the caucus is likely to comment on the project later in the county’s approval process.The county’s community development department received two letters in opposition to the arena. Pregl said the thrust of the opposition expressed in the letters is that the project represents new commercial development in the neighborhood, which the Woody Creek Master Plan prohibits.P&Z member Steve Whipple dismissed that argument. “The answer to that is, it’s an existing operation,” Whipple said.
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