Vet clinic plan sparks tempers |

Vet clinic plan sparks tempers

Jeremy Heiman

Order broke down at a county meeting yesterday after the Pitkin County commissioners refused to rule on a contentious land-use application.

At issue was an application to create a veterinary clinic in a large riding arena and stable on a 25-acre lot in Emma. After nearly four hours of testimony that was divided nearly equally between opponents and proponents, the commissioners postponed their vote until the two sides reach compromises on some of their differences.

After the nondecision, a shouting match broke out as citizens berated the board and leveled accusations at the applicant.

Pam Fisher, owner of a 30,000-square-foot riding arena and stable at the Happy Day Ranch in Emma, applied last year for permission to create a veterinary clinic inside the building. Such a clinic is allowed by the zoning, but only if approved by the commissioners in a special review hearing. The county’s Planning and Zoning Commission and planning staff recommended against the project.

Citizens who support the project maintain that the clinic will promote equestrian culture in the county. As ranchers go out of business, the argument goes, horse ranches will move onto the land instead of residential development, resulting in the preservation of open space.

Many of those opposed to the clinic were neighbors. They claimed that Fisher, who built the barn three years ago with her former husband, has been a bad neighbor since she moved onto the land, allowing her dogs to run at large and not maintaining her driveway to prevent dust. But Fisher argued she had contributed to the common good by maintaining the road and plowing snow.

Chip Comins, arguing for the clinic, played the open-space card. “It can support people who own horses in the valley, and that translates into preservation of open space,” he said. Comins repeated Fisher’s offer to open the riding arena to the public, assuring those present that the business would draw horse owners, creating a demand for the land.

But Lucy Cerise, who runs cattle operation next to Fisher’s land, said she and her husband are proof that not all ranchers are going out of business. On the other hand, Cerise said, Preshana, a former horse ranch nearby, is being now

being dug up for the construction of houses.

After about 25 people had spoken, Commissioner Mick Ireland shocked the crowd when he told the neighbors they must talk to each other and work out their differences before they could expect a decision from the board. He conceded that the application has merit, but noted that Fisher, with her dogs running loose, isn’t in compliance with the conditions of the original approval granted for the barn.

“How can I legally approve something when the applicant is in violation of the original approval?” Ireland asked.

Commissioner Patti Clapper supported Ireland’s argument.

“That’s putting the cart before the horse,” she said.

Though Commissioner Leslie Lamont wanted to vote on the issue, the board voted to put off a decision.

“That’s chickening out,” shouted elderly rancher Ray Rather, rising from his seat. Along with Lucy Cerise, he accused Fisher of boarding horses, a commercial activity that’s illegal without approval from the county.

After a heated exchange with Ireland, Rather shouted to the board that Fisher’s father had confided that she only wants approval for the commercial activity to help her sell the property, which she’s tried unsuccessfully to do in the past.

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