Horse clinic getting a `nay’ from rural Emma neighbors |

Horse clinic getting a `nay’ from rural Emma neighbors

Jeremy Heiman

A proposal to put a veterinary clinic in a large riding arena has aroused the ire of a rural Emma neighborhood.

The plan, put forward by horse trainer and equestrienne Pam Fisher, would create an operating room for such procedures as colic surgery, orthopaedic surgery and advanced dentistry for horses. The clinic would be within a portion of Fisher’s 30,000-square-foot riding arena at Happy Day Ranch, near the right-angle corner on Emma Road.

Neighbors opposed to the plan packed a hearing room in March as the Pitkin County Planning and Zoning Commission voted to recommend that Fisher’s application be denied. The county commissioners will consider that recommendation when they take up the application next Wednesday.

Fisher and her supporters in the Roaring Fork Valley equestrian community say the clinic is badly needed. Currently, the closest place where colic surgery can be performed is Grand Junction, and horses stricken with the twisting intestinal obstruction sometimes die en route, Fisher said.

“It’s kind of frightening if you’re a horse owner,” she said. Colic is the most common killer of horses, Fisher added.

But many neighbors don’t think the huge barn should have been allowed in the first place, and they are calling on the county to deny the clinic as a commercial enterprise that is incompatible with the residential and agricultural neighborhood.

Virginia Parker, who has lived at Happy Day Ranch since 1952, said she never dreamed someone would build a giant riding arena there. Fisher and her former husband bought the 25-acre parcel where her barn is located three years ago, when Parker and her sister subdivided four such parcels from the ranch.

“It was supposed to be a one-house, gentle-on-the-environment development,” Parker said. But the agricultural-residential zoning didn’t prevent construction of the riding arena, which qualified as an agricultural structure, as long as it was for private use.

Ray Rather, 71, who lives across Emma Road from Happy Day Ranch, farms the ranch and runs cattle there. He said Fisher’s piece of land isn’t particularly suitable for horses. It’s too steep, he said. The clay soil gets muddy when it’s wet and hard when it’s dry, and the irrigation water runs out by early July.

Rather contends opening a vet clinic in the barn would definitely violate subdivision covenants. “If somebody comes in and wants to break the covenants, it upsets the whole neighborhood,” Rather said. Such covenants can’t be enforced by county government, but other residents can take violators to court to demand compliance.

Rather said he didn’t agree with the county’s zoning when it was first applied, but has come to see the need for separating commercial areas from residential areas.

“It’s a nice place to live, now,” Rather said. “If you open it up to commercial, it will destroy the whole essence of the community.”

Both Parker and Rather said Fisher hasn’t been the best neighbor up to this time. Parker said cars are going up and down the road to the barn day and night already, and when she approached Fisher about sharing the cost of dust control measures, Fisher refused.

Though the subdivision covenants forbid excavating ground outside the perimeter of structures, Parker claimed Fisher had bulldozed an area for a riding ring outside her barn. The area has since become covered with weeds, she said.

Parker also said she believes Fisher is boarding horses at her arena, an enterprise which would not be permitted by the zoning or the covenants. Rather said he had heard the same thing from a reliable source he refused to identify.

Fisher flatly denied boarding horses at her arena. “There’s no truth to that,” she said. Fisher, who said she trains horses for Olympic competition, said she now keeps four horses she’s training, plus a mare, a retired horse and a horse belonging to a sponsor.

Fisher said a large-animal surgical facility like the one she’s proposing probably won’t be built elsewhere in the valley. She said her barn cost $2.5 million, and a suitable building couldn’t be built for much less.

She said she had arranged with Dr. Adolfo Games of Aspen Veterinary Clinic to move his practice to her barn, but she would maintain an open-door policy, allowing other vets to perform surgery and other procedures there. She said the practice would draw no more than three or four customers per day.

A veterinary clinic would be allowable under the present zoning only if approved under special review, said Lance Clarke, Pitkin County’s deputy director of planning. A zoning change would not be necessary.

But Clarke is recommending that county commissioners deny Fisher’s application when it comes before them next Wednesday. “It’s too impactive for the neighborhood,” Clarke said. The quiet, rural area is not suitable for the increased traffic the clinic would bring, he said.

Planner Stan Clauson, hired by Fisher to prepare and present her application, said he would argue before the commissioners that the application should pass the special review because the clinic would not endanger public health, safety and welfare, and it would not lower property values.

“This is a very low-impact activity,” Clauson said.

He said landscaping to decrease the visibility of the barn, and dust control for the drive, would be proposed.

“But if it doesn’t pass,” he said, “those things aren’t likely to happen.”

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