Commissioners may allow riding arena to open for public use

Posted 7/20/21

Park County commissioners are mulling whether to allow an indoor riding arena in rural Cody to be used as a kind of events center.

At their July 6 meeting, commissioners voted 3-1 to grant a …

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Commissioners may allow riding arena to open for public use


Park County commissioners are mulling whether to allow an indoor riding arena in rural Cody to be used as a kind of events center.

At their July 6 meeting, commissioners voted 3-1 to grant a variance to their rules and allow Jim and Tammy Collins’ plans to move forward in the planning process. However, the board has not yet decided whether to sign off on the Collinses’ vision for the arena, with commissioners warning they may impose a number of limitations given some opposition from neighbors.

Commissioner Lloyd Thiel said the board will “most likely put such harsh restrictions on it that it hopefully satisfies everybody — if it passes at all.”

Before purchasing the Road 19H property last year, the Collinses had some preliminary conversations with county planning and zoning staff about how they might be able to use the 11,000 square foot arena; the couple has since made a number of improvements to the facility and property, with more ideas in the works. However, the planning office ultimately determined that the Collinses’ plans qualified as a “major commercial use,” which is not allowed in the general rural Powell/Cody zoning area. 

With the facility potentially hosting weddings, markets, festivals, meetings, fundraisers, law enforcement training and community events, staff likened the concept to a convention center.

So, the Collinses asked commissioners for a variance to allow the major commercial use in the zoning area.

“Our community really does need an events space such as this,” said Cody attorney Lindsey Crandall, who represented the Collinses at the meeting. “Park County is changing.”

Representatives from two local organizations who are interested in hosting events at the facility and some neighbors signed letters offering their support as well.

However, three other couples and individuals who live nearby raised concerns about added vehicles, dust and noise in the rural, agricultural area.

Pat Windlow said she and her husband specifically bought a place in the country to get away from businesses, traffic and noise. She felt that opening up the riding arena to multiple large events — the Collinses suggested hosting up to three weddings per week — would have a large impact on the surrounding area.

“Our harmony, for our property and others around it, would be disrupted by people, noise and traffic,” added neighbor Karen Burk, questioning how the benefits for one family could outweigh the impacts on the others.

She also asked why the Collinses bought the property if they knew it wasn’t zoned for their intended use, arguing there are plenty of other areas in the county where they could run such a business.


‘This whole thing has morphed’

County planning staff classified the proposal as a major commercial use because it’s a service business occupying more than 5,000 square feet.

However, in writing and through their attorney, the Collinses noted that shooting ranges, golf courses, commercial bird farms, drive-in theaters, batting cages, go-carts, pool halls, bowling alleys, movie theaters and several other businesses are allowed in the zoning area. They said the county’s classifications are “arbitrary and inconsistent.”

With the way the classifications are set up, “we have to struggle to kind of fit these ideas into a box that maybe doesn’t fit all the ideas,” said Planning Director Joy Hill. She said it’s difficult to find a perfect fit.

Hill added that, while the Collinses “have been really great to work with,” their plans for the facility have “really changed” since they began speaking with the planning office. For instance, after learning that dude ranches are allowed in that zoning area, the Collinses drew up a rough sketch that would have included overnight accommodations, with RV camping spots. However, they’ve since dropped that idea — and at the hearing, the couple indicated that they no longer intend to host festivals or markets, in an effort to reduce the impacts.

“This whole thing has morphed in a short period of time, and now it’s sort of been scaled back again,” Hill said. “I’m concerned … because the scale has not stayed in a single place.”

Jim Collins explained that, after considering the idea of creating a “dude ranch” type facility, the couple realized “this is not what we want at all.” That, he said, is why they went back to their original plan. 

Jim Collins added that the process has been “very confusing for us.”

“We’re trying to sift it down to, ‘This is all we want to do,’” he explained, adding that, “We’re trying to appease our neighbors.”


Possible mitigation

The couple suggested several possible ways to lessen the impacts, including the potential of building a new road so the arena can be accessed off of the busier, paved Lane 16 instead of Road 19H.

Commissioners will have the ability to impose a series of restrictions when the Collinses take the next step in the planning process and seek a special use permit for the facility. Commissioner Joe Tilden — who cast the lone vote against the variance — said he’ll want to see “some serious mitigation.”

Unless and until the Collinses obtain a special use permit (SUP), they cannot rent out the arena. A couple of neighbors and planning staff noted that multiple events have already been held at the facility, including a Daisy Farm Vintage Market & Artisan Fair in May.

“They can’t hold [the] events that they’ve been holding out there without an SUP or variance granted,” Commission Chairman Lee Livingston said in response to a question from an unhappy neighbor.

In granting a variance, commissioners must make four findings — including that special circumstances exist, that the regulations are depriving the owner of reasonable use and that the exception is in harmony with the general intent of the county’s regulations and won’t injure nearby properties. Staff contended that those conditions had not been met.

For example, “our belief is they should have known … that the structure was permitted as a private arena and these uses are not allowed in GRP [General Rural Powell zoning],” planner Kim Dillivan said. “I know that sounds harsh, but that is the reality.”

Commissioner Thiel said he understood staff’s perspective on the conditions, but also understood where the owners were coming from. He felt the permit the county originally granted for the arena back in 2002 had left the door open to public use, though only after further review.

Livingston, who expressed support for the variance, suggested the Collinses get together with their neighbors and hammer out conditions they can all live with and then bring a proposal to the county. That approach was used in 2018 to resolve a contentious special use permit for the Yellowstone Cutthroat Guest Ranch along the North Fork of the Shoshone River — though Hill noted the deal eventually broke down. After complaints from neighbors, the county fined the restaurant $300 last year for hosting music festivals, because commissioners felt those events went beyond what the permit allowed.

In part to address the concerns of Collinses’ neighbors, the variance granted for the major commercial use will last for only as long as the couple own the property; if they sell the land to someone else, the new owner will have to start the process over before renting out the arena.

Commissioners will consider the Collinses’ special use permit at a future meeting, after the request is first reviewed by staff and the planning and zoning commission.