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County Planning Commission appears in favor of Horse Park

Horse culture is part of the valley’s history

By Mark Reaman

At the direction of the Gunnison County Planning Commission, the planning staff is preparing a recommendation to approve the proposed Crested Butte Horse Park located near Crested Butte South.

That recommendation will be given to the Planning Commission next month to be vetted before it goes to the county commissioners, who will make the final decision.

At a public hearing on Friday, May 12, a packed audience in the Crested Butte Town Council chambers listened as proponent Heath Hansens explained that he was withdrawing the camping element from the proposal. He said while people might sleep in the buildings on site there would be no additional sleeping outside the structures. He is, however, reserving the right to possibly request camping be allowed in the future.

Gunnison County community and economic development director Cathie Pagano said the Colorado Department of Transportation evaluated the latest traffic study for the equine facility that will provide lessons, boarding facilities, clinics and competitions and said the anticipated use would not trigger the need for auxiliary traffic or turning lanes at the entrance to the Horse Park off Highway 135.

“I talked to the Colorado State Patrol and the sheriff’s office and they said they didn’t have any special concerns in regard to traffic issues. The state patrol likened it to the I-Bar Ranch and they have not had any issues there,” Pagano said. “They did say it would be helpful if they were alerted when special events that might draw extra traffic were scheduled so they could be prepared with staffing.”

Several citizens at the May 12 hearing spoke in support of the plan. “The historical and cultural context of the town, this valley and the American West is centered on the horse,” said Bronte Roberts. “I feel like that part of the history of this place is being pushed out. Horses are a huge part of history here. They were part of the place long before the ski resort or mountain bikes. We need a safe place, overseen by professionals, for horses.”

Crested Butte resident Sumaya Abuhaidar agreed. “I agree there seems to be a shrinking horse community here,” she said. “Resources for horses have really shrunk. I’m training to practice ‘equine facilitated learning’ and I need a vibrant horse park center where I can host workshops and clinics. I plan to hire people to help me.

“I have been on boards like yours before and I know decisions can be hard, especially when you are flooded with comments,” Abuhaidar continued. “But that is when you look at the county’s strategic planning documents to guide you. The Gunnison County strategic plan encourages things like sustainable tourism and a diversified economy. There is also the One Valley Prosperity Strategy’s clear emphasis on local entrepreneurship and local, sustainable development. This project fits into that. There are always ways to address the core concerns that have been raised that are legitimate.”

Chris Hensley said Hansens and his wife, Kirsten Atkins, have been contributing members of the community for decades. “This is not a fly-by-night project that will not be completed or is being proposed by people who will leave town. Plus, this seems to be an idea that fits the location.”

Several others echoed the support and no one at the meeting spoke against the project, although several letters were sent to the Planning Commission expressing opposition.

Hansens said the project would be phased. “It won’t all be built at once,” he said. “The indoor riding arena is probably two or three years away.”

When asked about noise concerns, Hansens said these had been addressed even to the point of using rubber pavers to alleviate loudness. “I don’t think we will create enough noise to be a problem,” he explained. “The volume for instruction won’t be at the point being assumed by the neighbors. We will eventually have horse shows, not football games. I don’t think noise will be an issue.”

Pagano addressed a concern raised by neighbors that the approval process was being rushed. She said it started as a major impact review but was changed to a minor impact review. “The standards for the approval don’t change,” she said. “The timing is faster. A major impact proposal takes one to two years, versus a minor impact review of four to eight months. But the standards for approval remain the same.”

The Planning Commission officially closed the public hearing element of the review and asked the staff to prepare a recommendation for approval for the project. They will see that draft recommendation in early June. The commission will review the recommendation before passing it along to the county commissioners, who will make the final decision on the proposal, probably in late June or early July.

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