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Missouri Heights group says “no” to proposed equestrian center

An afternoon site visit in June of a proposed equestrian center on the Eagle County side of Missouri Heights in the Roaring Fork Valley attracted a large crowd of over 60 locals. The crowd largely kept within the requirements for the site visit: No questions to the commissioners or the developer were allowed. But the size of the crowd and the signs they carried conveyed a distinct message: Say No to Twin Acres.

The owner of Twin Acres LLC wants to lease 20 acres for a commercial equestrian center with an 8,000-foot, 25-stall boarding stable and a 20,000 square-foot, covered riding stable. Up to 50 horses could eventually be housed on-site. Current zoning is agricultural/rural.

Concerns include water use and wildfire danger due to high winds that are common on Missouri Heights. Susan Sullivan, a board member of the local citizens group Keep Missouri Heights Rural, lives just above the proposed development and has other complaints. “This whole area here is kind of like a stadium, so I think of myself as an unwilling spectator of all things Twin Acres,” she told KDNK.

Those things, she said, include manure, flies and fugitive light at night. “I have worked all of my life for this type of lifestyle in my beautiful home and I feel like this could take some of that away from me,” she added.

If the name of the group sounds familiar, think back to 2021. Outcry from Keep Missouri Heights Rural helped put the kibosh on a proposed Ascendigo Autism Services camp on the Garfield County side of Missouri Heights. Now, the group says the size and density of Twin Acres is too much for 20-acres.

Dan Gageby lives closest to the site. “My deck’s about 65 feet off the fence line and 500 feet from the center of the barn, so our whole entire house is oriented to the proposed operation,” he said.

The area was subdivided in the late 1990s with a conservation easement placed on just over 100 acres. The easement allows some development on 20-acres where longtime Roaring Fork Valley resident Tommie Zordel ran a small boarding business, and where Twin Acres wants to set up shop. But the remaining 80-acres must remain an irrigated and agricultural open space.

Existing buildings include a nine-horse stable, tack and equipment storage plus two outdoor riding arenas. Old ranch houses near the entrance would likely be razed if the development is approved, and a new ADU built to house employees.

Gageby manages a ranch for a living and told KDNK that he understands what goes into an operation like Twin Acres. “We have side-by-sides, we have equipment, we deal with hay, we deal with moving stuff around and it’s loud,” he explained. “There's a lot of diesel fuel, a lot of diesel motors, and tractors.”

Several subdivisions overlook the place. Gageby said maybe 15 homes are within 1,000 feet of the existing barn. “It's a densely populated area. Water is thin, fire danger is high. Adding a commercial operation in the middle of five [homeowners associations] really doesn't make any sense.”

Barbara Dills lives near the project but in Garfield County. She attended a Twin Acres hearing a few months ago and heard complaints about how lighting from the arenas would ruin the night sky. “And then, some months later, I was driving up from El Jebel after dark,” she said. “And I looked up on this hillside where all these residences are of many of the people who are very strongly “no”, and there were almost no downpointing lights on those homes. And I just thought the hypocrisy of that was stunning.” Dills added that Twin Acres could be scaled back but she’s not against that kind of land use.

After the site visit, came the public hearing, which was split into two parts.The presentations came first, then three hours of public comment, replete with details about water use and supply, odors and air quality, traffic, parking, noise, lights, waste, wildlife, wildfire mitigation, evacuation routes, and the overall location, design, configuration and density of the project…for starters.

“You've heard testimony. about the inconsistencies, the discrepancies, the inaccuracies, misleading information in the application and elements that have simply been left out,” Cheryl Niro told Eagle County Commissioners. She was the last in line to comment. “The bottom line here is that the impacts of this large and intensive proposed development will simply overwhelm this area of Missouri Heights. It will have serious, even dangerous, impacts to the surrounding neighborhood, and certainly will change its rural character.”

The public hearing is now closed but the meeting isn’t over. Commissioners and the applicant will reconvene on July 23 to address questions and comments. And, maybe even make a decision.

You can find out more about the Twin Acres project at theEagle County website or at Keep Missouri Heights Rural.

Amy Hadden Marsh’s reporting goes back to 1990 and includes magazine, radio, newspaper and online work. She has previously served as reporter and news director for KDNK Community Radio, earning Edward R. Murrow and Colorado Broadcasters Association awards for her work. She also writes for Aspen Journalism and received a Society of Professional Journalists’ Top of the Rockies award in 2023 for a story on the Uinta Basin Railway. Her photography has also won awards. She holds a Masters in Investigative Journalism from Regis University.