The Chaffee County Planning Commission held a public hearing over the land use application filed in February that, if approved, would enable the farm west of Buena Vista to increase the number of large special events it hosts per year from 3 to as many as 12.
The commission voted to continue the discussion until July 27 to allow the applicant, Meadows owner Jed Selby, to address concerns raised in comments from government agencies and local citizens alike.
At various points throughout the nearly 3-hour Planning Commission meeting held over Zoom Tuesday evening, commissioners noted as many as 90 people were on the teleconference listening in.
“We received a lot of comments from the public and from staff fairly late in the application process, so we’ve been going through the comments and through the feedback and we’ve noted that there are some modifications to the request that would potentially help alleviate some of the concerns. So, I think in our opinion, we see this as a little bit of a process and our hope would be to collect as much feedback as possible during this meeting, then figure out what modifications might allow us to proceed in a way that functions and people are able to live with and are happy with,” Selby said. “The details of exactly how much and exactly how often and exactly what scale are going to be the trick to get this to a point where it’s something everyone can live with.”
In addition to a report from Chaffee County staff by planner John Roorda, Chaffee County Emergency manager Rich Atkins, town of Buena Vista special projects manager Joel Benson and Chaffee County engineer Gary Greiner spoke briefly about the infrastructure challenges raised by the proposal.
After Roorda’s report, Selby gave a presentation on his intentions in making the land use request. While most of the comments from various agencies raised concerns about the impact of the application citing 12 events of 25,000 attendees, Selby said – not for the first time, and probably not the last – that Seven Peaks, the country music festival that organizers Live Nation estimated may grow as large as 25,000 attendees, would be “the blowout,” not the standard, for each event hosted at the Meadows.
“What I’m hearing now is that staff is directed to work with the applicant to correct the various studies that have been listed in the plan, to refine the plan for how many events will occur and the magnitude of those, to refine any onsite improvements or discussion on those improvements,” said Roorda. “Staff would like to receive these elements of improvement and studies within a time frame of probably 45 days prior to a meeting so that staff is fully able to review these plans, get them out to the public, receive public comment.”
Matt Farrar with Western Slope Consulting, who along with Davis Farrar joined Selby on the meeting Tuesday to present the Meadows plan, said, “I think we could work with July, and we will do our best to work with the staff to define specifically what studies need to be completed. Mr. Roorda has given us a list and we’d like to discuss that with him, but I think July is a reasonable time frame.”
The 45 days prior to that meeting would put the Meadows’ deadline for getting the requested materials to county staff by June 11. County attorney Daniel Tom said that these materials would be made available to the public.
The 277-acre farm west of Buena Vista along Crossman Avenue is used for hay production and cattle-grazing for most of the year, but it’s also the site of the music festivals Campout for the Cause and Seven Peaks, as well as the Society for Creative Anachronism’s Battlemoor event.
Selby and Farrar’s presentation mentioned an additional event that would be forthcoming if the land use application was approved: A Bluegrass Americana festival in the fall aimed at a size of 15,000 attendees.
Under the Meadows’s current zoning, the property is limited to three special events. The proposal for the Meadows Farm Outdoor Theater submitted to the county’s planning and zoning department requests up to 12 large-scale events – events with over 1,000 attendees – and the ability to host events with 1,000 attendees or less as a use by right – meaning the property could host an unlimited number of these small-scale events.
Each large-scale event would still need to go through an administrative approval process with the county that would “follow the county’s submittal requirements for a special event permit,” according to the application.
“The (event plan) will detail various elements of the event including, but not limited to: (1) the anticipated number of attendees; (2) traffic control and parking; (3) security; (4) water/wastewater; (5) outside agency support; (6) mitigation of impacts; (7) vending, including food and beverage; and, (8) other information deemed necessary for hosting a safe event,” the application states.
The event plan would also include a site plan for each event.
As part of the process, the county also gathered input on the application from referral agencies who would be impacted by the potential land use change. The county gathered letters from 14 agencies, from the town of Buena Vista, the Buena Vista Sanitation District, the Buena Vista school district to the county Road and Bridge Department, Chaffee County Heritage Board and even the county Noxious Weed department.
State agencies also submitted comments, such as the department of transportation, Parks and Wildlife and the state’s Division of Water Resources.
BV Sanitation District manager Patti Andreas noted that the Meadows lacks sewer infrastructure and Shelley Mueller with the school district said that large scale events would impact the district’s bus routes in the mornings and afternoons.
Chaffee County Fire Protection District fire inspector Jason Balmos said, “We would need notice of each event as far in advance as possible. It would not be necessary to go through the full permitting process each time, but the more we know, and the sooner we know it, the better we can prepare for the event and ensure services for the remainder of the county continue without interruption.”
Writing on behalf of the Chaffee County Heritage Area Advisory Board, Lee Coveney and Melanie Roth’s primary concern was with the Mahon Barn located on the property, and supported the Meadows’ intention to continue operation as a hay field when not in use for special events.
“However,” they wrote, “the size and number of proposed events will have huge negative impacts on the property, the town of Buena Vista and the surrounding area.”
In making these comments, the CCHAAB assumed that the Meadows would host a dozen events each with 25,000 ticketed attendees and proposed limiting that number to 6 events capped at 12,000 attendees.
The Noxious Weed Department noted that bringing in thousands of visitors from around the country increases the potential for accidental introduction of invasive plant species.
Chaffee County Road and Bridge supervisor Mark Stacy noted, “Chaffee County roads are not designed for the traffic and truck volume consistently needed for these large events.”
Jim Aragon, wildlife manager for Colorado Parks and Wildlife, said “the property provides a tremendous amount of value to wildlife and aquatic species,” however, “CPW does not foresee significant impacts to wildlife or wildlife habitat.”
The town of Buena Vista’s response to the request for referral agency comments was the most extensive, also noting that the site is lacking water and sewer infrastructure and that large events would stress surrounding road infrastructure.
In summary, “the summer season in Buena Vista is a busy time. The demands on the town of Buena Vista to provide the coordinated efforts necessitated by this request are too great,” the town comments said.
The town also contested the results on an economic impact analysis of the Seven Peaks Music Festival included with the outdoor theater application, saying “the town’s analysis indicates that the impact from previous festivals and events from the Meadows venue have done little to benefit the small businesses in the community. The large events proposed tend to dissuade tourists outside the event to visit the town, even locals leave due to the invasive traffic and the high influx of people to the area.”
The Upper Arkansas Conservancy District board’s assessment weighed that the increased public profile of the Meadows “could give agriculture in the Upper Ark Valley some much-needed positive public exposure as well as potentially offsetting some of the negative impacts of tourism to ranchers,” but “the potential for 12 events with potentially 25,000 attendees each exceeds the site’s carrying capacity. It is our understanding that this is not what the applicant intends, but 2019’s event drew 11,000 attendees resulting in large trash load on the site and compacted the soil.”