Old Red Barn controversy sparks concerns | PostIndependent.com

Old Red Barn controversy sparks concerns

John Colson
Post Independent staff
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
Kelley Cox Post Independent

It appears unlikely that Garfield County will do anything about the Old Red Barn, a 68,000 riding arena on Missouri Heights that has upset a vocal group of neighbors.

But the Garfield Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) is considering whether to modify the county’s development review process to give better notice to neighborhoods where similarly controversial facilities are proposed in the future.

“There has to be some way for the neighbors to express their concerns,” said Commissioner Tom Jankovsky at a BOCC work session on Tuesday.

The issue arose Monday when neighbors attended a BOCC meeting and reiterated earlier objections to the barn, which some fear is morphing into a commercial equestrian facility.

The riding arena was approved initially as a use by right by planning director Fred Jarman, which meant it did not go through the county’s traditional public notice and public hearing process.

Melissa and Russell Wight, the current owners, bought the property three years ago. Melissa Wight said on Tuesday that the property “already had the permit [to build the barn]. That’s why we bought it.”

She said the property, which takes up roughly 40 acres, had belonged to Eric Calderon, former manager of the Little Nell Hotel in Aspen, and a partner, Newton Bartley, a former employee of the Aspen Skiing Co.

As for the fear that the facility is taking on commercial overtones, Wight said flatly, “It is not.”

There have been complaints that the barn is being used to hold riding clinics for youngsters, but Wight said she is aware of those complaints and disagrees.

“It’s my driver and my bus that brings my kids and their friends,” she declared, adding that the number of kids getting riding lessons typically is around a half a dozen, sometimes more.

The BOCC, however, did not focus so much on the Old Red Barn controversy as on the county’s land use code, which provides for virtually automatic approvals of development projects that fall within the use by right lists.

Jankovsky asked whether a large equestrian center, such as the Old Red Barn, should be considered a commercial use.

“If people want to come and ride with a trainer, on a horse that is boarded there, that is a use by right,” said the county’s chief building official, Andy Schwaller.

If strangers show up at a ranch gate and rent horses, Schwaller continued, that may fall under a different portion of the code and call for a a public hearing.

One complicating factor, Schwaller said, is how to characterize summer riding camps for kids. Such camps have gone on in Missouri Heights for years, he said, but some might consider them to be commercial ventures.

“Am I going to be the horse stable police?” asked Gale Carmoney, the county’s code enforcement officer. He said enforcement of new codes imposing stricter rules for far-flung horse barns would be a difficult proposition.

“And that gets back to our philosophy, too, of being business friendly, trying to create jobs,” Jankovsky said.

During public comment on the issue, Basalt area resident Bill Blakeslee told the BOCC that elected officials “should be serving the majority of the people,” not just the applicant, in land use issues that cause controversy.

“There are other barns that are not disturbing the people,” Blakeslee said. “It does not appear the government has considered the people in this case.”

Commissioner John Martin closed the hour-long work session, pledging that if the BOCC and the county’s staff come up with proposed changes to the land use code as a consequence of this dispute, there will be public hearings on the matter.


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