Edina says no to horse center at ‘The Fred’ golf course

  • Article by: MARY JANE SMETANKA , Star Tribune
  • Updated: July 3, 2014 - 5:38 AM

Council action kills campaign to put equestrian center at the site.

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File photo: Two golfers finished up the third hole of the Fred Richards Golf Course..

Photo: RICHARD SENNOTT, Star Tribune

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Although the future of Edina’s soon-to-close Fred Richards Golf Course is still up in the air, two things are certain: There won’t be horses there, and the 42-acre site will be used for more than one purpose.

This week, the City Council acted unanimously to put the kibosh on horses at “The Fred” after a vigorous campaign by a group that wanted an equine center there that would offer therapeutic riding to disabled people. Supporters of the proposal dominated a public meeting on the future of the golf course last month, alarming other residents who want a more general-use park.

At this week’s council meeting, City Manager Scott Neal said that the equine proposal was at odds with two council priorities: that something more financially sustainable than a golf course be on the site, and that it increase park access for ordinary Edina residents.

“It’s pretty clear to me that this facility … really is inconsistent with those two key goals,” Neal said.

Last spring, the council voted to close Fred Richards at the end of this season and consolidate golf operations at its other city-owned course, Braemar. Hundreds of people protested the decision to close “The Fred,” saying the course was ideal for seniors, rookie golfers and kids who could take time to learn golf or play a leisurely game. But city officials said that with fewer people golfing, financial trends mean the city should not keep operating two golf courses.

The city has said it intends to create a public park there and has asked the public for ideas. A group called We Can Ride in Edina launched an e-mail and Web campaign, urging the city to convert the land into a state-of-the-art equine center. We Can Ride, a nonprofit that is based in Minnetonka, works to enhance its clients’ lives with therapeutic horseback riding.

Specialized use rejected

But the We Can Ride in Edina proposal was bigger than that, saying the site could have two indoor arenas, an events space for jumping and dressage competitions, and space for family activities like hayrides.

At the first public meeting on the future of the course last month, about 80 percent of the people who attended were from We Can Ride in Edina, according to the group. On a city Web page dedicated to the future of Fred Richards, other residents said they worried that the area could become a mob of horse trailers during shows. They argued that keeping horses was not appropriate in a suburban area ringed by homes.

At this week’s meeting, council members agreed.

“This is private use of public land,” said Council Member Mary Brindle. “We have [other] needs for this park.”

Council Member Joni Bennett said she watched from the back of the room at the June meeting and listened to public comments. One that moved her, she said, came from a man in a “Save the Fred” cap who said he could see a park there as something he and his family could use, but that it would sting if the park went to a specialized use.

Winnie Martin, one of the people behind We Can Ride in Edina, said she was disappointed with the council decision. She said the intention of We Can Ride in Edina was to propose something unique and different from “the same old walking paths.”

‘Important … to take time’

“Edina is a very established community, and I guess this proposal scared them a little bit,” Martin said.

“This is way out of the box. To me, that was OK. But it was not OK to not fully consider it. … There is no reason this could not be used for public, private, not-for-profit and after-school activities.”

Council members said there will be more time for public input on The Fred’s future. Mayor Jim Hovland said he had heard concerns from residents that the process is too hasty. He said the council will take all the time it needs to get the new park right.

“It’s important for us to take time … and think about what this could be, what all the possibilities are,” he said.

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