Squash courts, a fitness club and renting space for a dozen large events a year would be added to Ox Ridge Hunt Club in an effort to expand the club’s membership, according to plans brought before the Planning and Zoning Commission this week.
“They’re here tonight to talk about reinventing themselves,” town Planning Director Jeremy Ginsberg said in introductory comments to the commission at its public hearing on Tuesday.
After selling to the town 16-plus acres of the 104-year-old club’s land off of Middlesex Road, the riding club is tearing down and replacing several of its old buildings. It’s also expanding the services it provides to members, speakers for the club told the P&Z commission.
“This is our second century,” club President Richard Colligan told the P&Z. “We’re calling this plan our ‘Second Century Plan.’
“The goal is to revitalize Ox Ridge — make it integral to the community of Darien,” he said. “It’s an iconic institution, not just in our town, but in fact, in the equestrian community.
“Our June show brings riders from around the country, some from around the world. But, as some of you know, Ox Ridge in recent years has been lapsing, so the club needs a change. We haven’t responded to those changes until now. Our plan addresses them.
“The market today needs members who seek diversity of activities, family activities. That is our goal. You’ll see a plan tonight that addresses that.”
Attorney Amy Zabetakis took the lead in presenting the club’s plans to the commission. At one point, she said, “The concept here that Richard referred to is changing this into the ‘Ox Ridge Riding and Racquet Club’ […]”
Asked how many members the club now has, Zabetakis said that the memberships are largely for families, and there are fewer than 50 members at present. The club is asking to increase the maximum allowed membership size to 250 (currently, 200 is the maximum allowed).
Nothing was said about scaling back any of the club’s current horse-related activities or programs. The focus was entirely on adding space in the club’s current 22.5 acres for new activities.
Six squash courts for singles play and two more for doubles play would be built into a large clubhouse. Zabetakis appeared to indicate that squash would be an important attraction for new club members.
Currently, the club leases space to Tokeneke Club for several paddle tennis courts near a corner of the property, and those courts are only used by Tokeneke members and their guests. The lease expires in 2018.
Ox Ridge expects to offer paddle tennis to its members in the future, but there don’t seem to be firm plans on how to do it. Ongoing discussions (Zabetakis referred to them as “talking” and “chats”) have been taking place with Tokeneke Club, which owns the courts themselves and could take them away once the lease on the land expires.
“Quite frankly, and based on the analysis that the […] [Ox Ridge Club] board did, we’re expecting more revenue to come from the squash courts, because there are [no] other squash courts in Darien,” she said. “Paddle tennis courts — in all fairness, just about every other club in Darien has paddle tennis courts” and the town has them, as well, she added.
The Ox Ridge club’s plan includes replacing housing for 15 employees, replacing the indoor riding rink (an old airplane hangar from about the 1930s, Zabetakis said) with a new building 250 feet long by 130 feet wide, replacing the clubhouse, modifying existing structures, providing lighting on the site, moving the outdoor riding rink that is on land now owned by the town, installing new water pipes, a new drainage system and putting in a new sanitary sewer system.
A large array of solar panels on the roof of the indoor riding rink would provide power and heat for the club buildings.