Jefferson County has officially transferred just over twenty acres of land from its fairgrounds to the youth horsemanship organization the Westernaires.
“Westernaires is JeffCo’s crown jewel, and selfishly as a citizen of the county, I'm glad that we're doing what we can to be able to keep them here,” said County Commissioner Tracy Kraft-Tharp at a March 14 Jefferson County Board of Commissioners meeting. “It's so valuable for our youth in the county, and really showcases our best and our brightest.”
Tom Hoby, director of the county's Parks and Open Space Division, explained that the land transfer was desired both to give the Westernaires a permanent home and to ensure that the organization is responsible for any issues that arise at the property.
In 2019 there was a shitty situation in the area the Westernaires use off Ellsworth Avenue and Indiana Street on the Jefferson County Fairgrounds — literally.
Excess manure from the animals the Westernaires had on the property was running off into drainage areas, causing the Colorado Department of Public Health & Environment to intervene. The county paid about $100,000 to fix the runoff problem and improve the tension basin, but as Hoby explained, it wants to make sure that future expenses are in the hands of the Westernaires rather than the county.
The Westernaires have used land at the fairgrounds since 1964, and this particular 20.69-acre parcel was purchased for use of the organization by the county in 1983. Under the board-approved transfer, the Westernaires and the county will enter a restrictive covenant stipulating that the space be used for open space-related purposes.
However, because of the past manure problems, the county isn’t obligated to take the land back from the organization.
“If there were significant environmental problems that would come with significant costs, the county may or may not want to take that property back,” Hoby said at the March 14 meeting.
If the Westernaires shuttered or wanted to move away from the fairgrounds, the county would have oversight to approve of any sale and would receive $1.1 million or 70 percent of fair market value, whichever is greater.
At a January 5 Jefferson County Open Space Advisory committee meeting, several residents showed up to question the idea.
“I'm here on my own as a citizen of Jefferson County concerned about open space, and particularly concerned about any action that transforms open space from open space to something else,” Frank Hutfless, a former attorney for the county, said at the January 5 meeting. “Once this property gets into the hands of the Westernaires, which is a private nonprofit, it can be anything.”
But when it came time for the Board of Commissioners to finalize the measure with a vote, no one showed up, not even the Westernaires, which did not respond to a request for comment.
In the end, the board voted unanimously to transfer 12.8 acres of Jefferson County Open Space property and 9.1 acres of general fund property to the Westernaires.
“It's a win-win solution,” said Commissioner Lesley Dahlkemper. “It keeps, in this location, a nonprofit organization that is dedicated to our youth in Jeffco. … This really provides them an opportunity not only to build lifelong skills, but also potentially lifelong friendships.”