Opponents state case against proposed equestrian facility

Published 8:02 am Thursday, July 17, 2008

The application, Lingafelter said, is incomplete and contains numerous &dquo;to be determined&dquo; items. Lingafelter and his wife, Marcy Wright, both testified that in Smith&squo;s testimony last week, Smith answered too many questions with phrases like &dquo;I don&squo;t know,&dquo; &dquo;I&squo;ll make every attempt,&dquo; &dquo;We&squo;ll do the best we can,&dquo; &dquo;Haven&squo;t gotten that far.&dquo;

&dquo;Clearly, at best, this project is in the conceptual stage,&dquo; said Lingafelter. &dquo;There are too many unanswered questions. There are issues that must be examined to determine the impact this project will have on the &squo;health and safety&squo; and being &squo;in harmony with the surrounding area.&squo; I am unaware of a conditional use request of this magnitude, complexity and potential impact on the community, to have previously come before this board.&dquo;

Wright said there is not enough land to do what Smith is proposing with 100 acres. She and others, such as Wright Lingafelter and Pat Salomon&squo;s attorney Sharon Alexander, argued that the county&squo;s zoning section 6.2.4 requires a minimum of 200 acres for a recreational facility.

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&dquo;Based on the conceptual design of the equestrian event facility, I think everyone will agree that this is a very high density development that will impact virtually all the 100 acres,&dquo; said Wright. &dquo;How can this possibly be done in the &squo;environmentally friendly&squo; manner to result in the &squo;park like setting&squo; that Mr. Smith wants us to believe possible? There isn&squo;t enough land to do all that is proposed in a &squo;smart growth&squo; manner.&dquo;

FENCE (Foothills Equestrian Nature Center) Executive Director Melissa LeRoy was questioned Tuesday and said that FENCE has approximately 145 acres dedicated to horse shows. FENCE encompasses 384 acres total, according to LeRoy. Some question was raised as to how many acres are dedicated to horse events, as the applicants&squo; attorneys Billy McFarland and Bill Miller Sr. argued that tax office records indicate that the steeplechase area is 60 acres, but LeRoy said the steeplechase area is 105 acres with horse facilities outside that area as well and she also obtained her information from the tax office.

LeRoy detailed how many people and horses attend the events and discussed complaints FENCE has had concerning the lights and noise.

When asked if the space designated for horse activities at FENCE could add rings and stables to hold AA shows, LeRoy answered that the space &dquo;hardly now suffices for what we need.&dquo;

FENCE has 302 permanent stalls and 96 temporary stalls. For AA shows, which the proposed Green Creek facility is proposing to hold, 500 stalls are needed. FENCE is short on stalls and rings to hold such events.

LeRoy said FENCE uses more than 5 million gallons of water per year to water the rings, which is done from a creek and Metcalf pond on the property. There are also five wells on the property.

Judy Heinrich expressed several concerns over the impact the facility would have on the surrounding rural area. Heinrich, who was instrumental last year in getting the county to approve a new zoning category of AR5 (agricultural residential with a five-acre minimum) in Collinsville, near the proposed equestrian facility, said AR5 specifically disallows &dquo;recreational vehicle and travel trailer parks, service and camp areas.&dquo; The proposed facility is located in Polk&squo;s MU (multiple use) district.

Heinrich said she met with Smith and a representative of the TRHC and found that the potential scope and frequency of use for the facility is much greater than has been publicly disclosed.

&dquo;Mr. Smith and Mr. (Chuck) Lingerfelt, president of the hunt club, talked about other events they envisioned holding here, such as bird dog trials, hound judging and polo,&dquo; Heinrich said. &dquo;They also said &squo;they are open&squo; to hosting any other kinds of horse shows, such as the western disciplines of cutting horses, reining horses, and western pleasure, as well as all-breed shows like saddlebreds, arabians, quarter horses, etc. ‐ just about every breed of horse has its own show circuit.&dquo;

&dquo;Mr. Smith says he wants this facility to be a gift to the community. Well, we can see that it&squo;s a gift to the riding and hunt club,&dquo; Heinrich said. &dquo;And we can see that it&squo;s a gift to the exhibitors who would have a nice new place to show. But to the surrounding area, without having any reasonable restrictions applied, this appears to be a gift in the same sense that the Trojan Horse was: it contains many elements that could destroy the way of life this community has proactively sought to protect.&dquo;

Margo Savage said she is torn on the issue because she&squo;d love to have a place for those type horse shows, but she is also a resident of the area and cited her main concern as water.

&dquo;I think (Smith is) trying to do a really good thing for the community,&dquo; said Savage, &dquo;but as they say, not in my backyard.&dquo;

Savage also said traffic is another concern and she is not opposed to the facility, but it seems they are trying to fit the facility in half the size it needs to be.

Phil Florig, an adjacent property owner, also spoke and expressed concerns he and his mother, Edna Florig, have over dark sky and adequate water supplies.

Smith and his attorneys say they are negotiating with Polk County for a water source. They say they will have a creek and will construct a pond for ring watering.

About five people still are scheduled to speak in opposition to the proposed facility. The zoning board of adjustments will reconvene the meeting on Tuesday, July 29 at 4 p.m., tentatively in the Womack building in Columbus.