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Clackamas County faces legal fight with Boring equestrian center

Clackamas County is caught in a legal fight with the owners of a decades-old equestrian and event space in the small town of Boring.

The Mt. Hood Center in Boring along U.S. 26 was shut down by Clackamas County officials in April. The building's owners started expanding offerings at the traditional horse facility in recent years, including weddings and corporate events.

The Mt. Hood Center in Boring along U.S. 26 was shut down by Clackamas County officials in April. The building’s owners started expanding offerings at the traditional horse facility in recent years, including weddings and corporate events.

Ryan Haas / OPB

The county moved last month to shut down the Mt. Hood Center, posting red notices around the 18-acre facility along U.S 26, where attendees have enjoyed horse shows, barrel racing, riding clinics and other equestrian events for decades. It also sued the facility owners, alleging they’d violated county code by hosting events with too many people.

“It was time to close that building down,” said Izak Hamilton, public information officer for the Clackamas County Fire District. He said the building wasn’t fire safe, adding: “If a fire would have broken out in that building, there’s no way that we would have put our firefighters in or on that building.”

The center owners, Kaluga, LLC and Magdala LLC, claim the county’s actions are illegal and are trying to keep it open. Last week, they sued the county back, seeking $28 million in damages.

The center “is pursuing all of its remedies provided by the Clackamas County Code and has filed appropriate legal claims in Clackamas County Circuit Court because we disagree with the County’s actions,” Aaron Shelley, the center’s director of operations, said in a statement. “We believe a positive solution is possible.”

The center has a maximum occupancy of 300 people and can hold up to 190 horses and about 10 horse shows each year, according to county officials. But the center has held weddings, festivals and concerts with thousands of people who crowded exits, overwhelmed security and placed attendees at risk, they say.

In addition, the owners built an outdoor riding course and have hosted markets, rodeos and camping with RV hookups. All of this violated county code, attorneys allege in court records.

The Mt. Hood Center advertises itself as an “ideal location for weddings hosting 4-450″ guests and says it hosts “concert series, rodeos, weddings, parties, farmers markets, and more,” according to its website.

The closure would mark yet another roadblock for one of the area’s few equestrian facilities, forcing local horse owners and trainers to travel farther to use a facility like it. Angela Parker, who has owned the nearby Hawk Haven Equestrian Center for more than 40 years, says many equestrian facilities have closed due to increased housing developments and farming.

“I’d rather it not close,” said Parker, who added: “The current people did a phenomenal job. They made that place a lot more horse-friendly. I was hoping they were going to succeed quite frankly.”

But things had gotten out of control at the center, said Hamilton. Emergency personnel responded to a stabbing there during a concert in March, records show. Event attendees have blocked nearby driveways, frustrating neighbors.

A packed concert in March had alcohol “throughout the venue” and outside of the bar and alcohol bracelets strewn across the floor, “available to be picked up by anyone — including minors,” the county said in a press release. That same month, a video showed a bull lying on its side and flailing as a person poked it with a cattle prod. Then, a man bit its tail.

“It’s a little chaotic out there,” Hamilton said.

Brittany Cory, owner and trainer at Free Rein Stables & Horsemanship in Boring, worked as a barn manager and trainer at the center before leaving in 2020. She had hoped to help fill a void in the local horse community, but over time she saw the center increasingly lean on more profitable events like concerts and weddings.

“The horse community has not been welcome there in quite some time,” said Cory.

She said the center was often littered with broken glass and trash, saying, “It got to the point where it wasn’t even safe to take a horse there.” Now she supports the county closing it down and hopes it comes back in the future as a space focused on horses.

“I’m sad to see it disappear as an option to hold horse events for sure,” she said.

Clackamas County shut down the Mt. Hood Center in Boring in April and deemed the building unsafe to occupy. The owners are fighting that decision in court.

Clackamas County shut down the Mt. Hood Center in Boring in April and deemed the building unsafe to occupy. The owners are fighting that decision in court.

Ryan Haas / OPB

Shelley, the operations director, did not return a phone call seeking additional comment Wednesday. Christopher Koback, a lawyer representing the center in court, did not return phone calls or an email seeking comment. Dean Najdawi, the owner of Kaluga, LLC, purchased the property in 2018. He could not be reached for comment.

When it was purchased, the building was in “severe disrepair,” according to court records in the center’s lawsuit against the county. It cost $3.5 million to get the necessary permits and address a litany of problems, including decaying bleachers, outdated electrical and plumbing systems and other parts of the building that didn’t comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

In the lawsuit, the facility’s managers argue they are operating within a 1982 conditional use permit that does not limit the number of people allowed in the center’s arena. In addition, they “submitted for all permits required to address any alleged building code violations” but the county hasn’t approved them, according to court records that claim this is illegal.

“The notion that only 300 people are allowed in our 100,000 (square foot) building is completely absurd,” the center’s management team said in a May 9 post on its website.

The team added that the center adheres to fire safety standards and follows fire codes. “(W)e respectfully urge Clackamas County’s commissioners to reconsider their decision and allow Mt. Hood Center to resume its operations without further delay,” the post states.

Shelley said in a statement Wednesday that the center and county “are meeting this coming week to discuss how we can amicably resolve the issues.”

The next scheduled court hearing is May 30.

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