Saddle Club Lassoes New Home In Divide

Photo by CR Chambers

by Rick Langenberg


     After several years of riding through piles of feasibility studies and paper work, the Woodland Park Saddle Club has finally lassoed a new $1 million-plus home in Divide. Last week, the Teller County Commissioners, facing an epic, half-foot application that practically had to be carried onto a horse cart, signaled the green light for a slew of land use and zoning changes that will allow the Saddle Club to soon begin dirt work on its new elaborate home, near the intersection of Hwys. 24 and 67 in Divide. The new WP Saddle Club digs will be the central part of a 60-acre development calling for a 120-seat outdoor arena, an amphitheater, a 180-seat indoor arena, a restaurant, 133,000 square-feet of commercial building area, a multi-use center and storage facilities, 16 acres of open space, equestrian trails, 40 recreational vehicle stalls and camping areas, plus adjacent residential housing and commercial sections.

      The Saddle Club facilities will mostly occupy a 40-acre area that will become an events anchor of the property and be used by club members, with some associated community purposes. Developer Pete Kuyper will control a 20-acre area, just north of the Saddle Club events area, which will house a variety of residential and commercial/multi-use properties. The Saddle Club and a related non-profit support organization, though, didn’t have to do too much arm twisting in order to complete their proposed trot into Divide. “I think you guys are a class act,” said Jim Ignatius, chairman of the board of county commissioners, when addressing representatives of the Saddle Club at last week’s hearing. “This is a bull’s-eye.” He complimented the Saddle Club team, which included Kuyper and several independent planning, infrastructure and transportation consultants, with working diligently in following the county’s detailed regulations in a way that would preserve Teller’s rural heritage but allow the club to meet new demands in the equestrian industry.   These growing demands include offering better facilities for recreational vehicles and horse campers.

A long and lengthy journey

The Saddle Club Divide project has been in the works since 2009. But in reality the Saddle Club pursuit began in 2004, following a land trade between the city of Woodland Park, the Downtown Development Authority and the Saddle Club. This led to the closure of the Bergstrom Arena and the group’s signature downtown clubhouse in Woodland Park. After toying briefly with the idea of using its new land site, an area that once served as the city’s sewer lagoons, the club decided to try to sell its property in Woodland and secure a permanent home in a more rural section of the county. The first proposed location in the Tranquil Acres fell through and then a real estate agreement was reached with Kuyper and Bob Maytag for about $700,000 for properties in Divide, according to Saddle Club representatives.

     However, the project still had to overcome significant hurdles and had to trot through reams of bureaucratic weeds, such as convincing county officials to expand the Divide town center. “I feel like I have had a long dream that I haven’t wakened up from yet,” quipped Saddle Club President Chuck Mahoney, who admits the project has been quite time consuming. It also featured a few notable controversies, with several former influential members and community leaders accusing club officials of embarking on a dangerous financial course and trying to silence critics of the deal.  Plus, some residents weren’t crazy about the project’s camping and tourist-related pursuits. In addition, the idea of leaving Woodland Park, the club’s hub since 1947, raised a few questions. “We just seem to be spending money very quickly,” said Merry Jo Larsen of the Cowhand, in the early part of the group’s proposed move to Divide. “Some of us are concerned about procedures and the overall process.”

     But according to Mahoney, the new proposed move to Divide hasn’t experienced much opposition in recent months. “A lot of the people who opposed this project are no longer members of the club,” said Mahoney. For the most part, the 2012 Saddle Club season in Divide will be comprised of considerable dirt work and infrastructure enhancements.  In addition, the club needs to finalize access permits with the Colorado Department of Transportation.  A key part of the project involves two access points off Hwy. 67 and a proposed interior road system to and from the Saddle Club events facilities.   

     According to Mahoney, the club hopes to possibly establish its new outdoor arena and have roping and gymkhana competitions this fall. The first phase of the project deals with the outdoor arena and equestrian facilities. “We are only going to build what we can afford,” said Mahoney, when addressing the commissioners last week about project phasing. The future phases could establish an elaborate indoor arena, a multi-use facility for community purposes and a storage building.  That portion of the project, expected to costs between $1 million and $1.5 million, would be funded by the future sale proceeds of the club’s real estate holdings in Woodland Park.  As part of the project, the development may house a command center for emergency service groups and a place to house livestock and other animals, especially during disasters like the Hayman fire.  “We view this as a major amenity to the community and the county as well as our members,” said Mahoney.

     The residential and commercial side of the project, located adjacent to the Saddle Club area, will be handled by Kuyper.  Preliminary plans call for 88 dwelling units and a 75,000 square-foot mixed use, commercial area. During last week’s hearing, Kuyper briefly addressed the board and made it clear that his future component of the project is designed to support the Saddle Club events center.

Too  much paper work

During last week’s final hearing, no one spoke in opposition to the project. The county staff, however, did receive one resident complaint in writing, dealing with concerns about the club’s “Southern Colorado Events” facility and the negative impacts this would pose on the community.  The commissioners, though, cautioned that the county has a special event policy.  As a result, they said the club or whatever organization is sponsoring festivities, competitions and performances at this new Saddle Club events facility, would have to abide by definite rules and noise standards. In fact, the commissioners were highly complimentary of the project.

     Brian Walker, a commissioner candidate for District One, raised concerns about the amount of paper work involved in the project. He suggested stream-lining the process more.  It took the Saddle Club about two and a half years to trot through a rash of land use rules in order to gain the final okay to get started with their project.  Some government observers believe this is over-kill. Ignatius, however, defended the current slew of regulations.  “These regulations are what the public wants,” said Ignatius, in citing the detailed process the county endured in adopting updated land use rules. According to the commissioner, many of the detailed regulations are designed to protect various property owners and entities.  “It is a win-win for everyone,” said Ignatius. The next step involves finalizing the land sale among Kuyper, Maytag and the Saddle Club.  Then, the club must move to finalize its access permits with CDOT. Mahoney is optimistic this can occur this summer.