- Associated Press - Saturday, December 20, 2014

BRECKENRIDGE, Colo. (AP) - Kim Zimmer’s wedding changed forever when she opened an email on Dec. 6.

Zimmer and her fiancée, Julie, chose a venue in an area known as Golden Horseshoe about 5 miles northeast of Breckenridge.

The venue, run by a company called Dry Gulch, features 40 acres of alpine meadows, trails and views of the Tenmile Range, as well as historic cabins and relics of a mining ghost town established around 1859. The largest gold nugget ever discovered in Colorado - called “Tom’s baby” - was found nearby.

Zimmer loved the location and the fact that the venue would let her bring in kegs from her favorite Breckenridge breweries.

She arranged shuttle transportation for the couple’s 175 guests. The pair decided on a menu with a local chef from All Events and Catering. They sent out save-the-dates and created a website full of the June 26 wedding details.

“The dream wedding was kind of coming together, and then, ugh. It was like being crushed.”

Then Zimmer read an email from John T. Cooney, the wedding venue’s owner. It read, “We regret to inform you that due to unforeseen circumstances, Dry Gulch is canceling all weddings for the 2015 season.”

“Having to backtrack and call everyone was, like, ugh,” said Zimmer, 35, with a heavy sigh.

Cooney, who lives in Boulder, blamed the cancellations on a legal battle with Summit County, and he wrote that Dry Gulch would refund site fees.

Summit County filed a lawsuit on Oct. 1, 2013, claiming the business was operating illegally. Dry Gulch disagrees.

“There’s a dispute, there’s no question about that,” said Wayne Schroeder, Cooney’s lawyer.

According to county records, Cooney bought the Dry Gulch property in 2006 and started operating a special event and wedding business on the land three years later.

That commercial activity was illegal, said county attorney Jeff Huntley, because zoning regulations established the land in 2001 as backcountry, which doesn’t allow commercial land use.

In the lawsuit, the county also claimed Cooney’s business was operating without a license and that structures on the property violated building and development codes.

County officials met with Cooney a few weeks ago, after the mid-November snowstorm, and found 67 building code violations.

Part of a structure collapsed while the group was inside.

“One of our building inspectors made a few choice comments on camera,” Huntley said.

That inspector was standing in a doorway, safely away from the collapse. Assistant county attorney Keely Ambrose described the attached structure as a tent with a wooden frame, which was lacking a required permit.

Schroeder said the tent would have been removed before winter but was left in place for the inspection and buckled under the heavy snow.

County officials also found a wood stove that was sending carbon monoxide into a building and electrical and other work done on the property without the required permits.

“The code violations will be fixed, whatever they may be, if there are in fact code violations,” Schroeder said, adding that he doesn’t know of any injuries that have happened on the property.

The county doesn’t believe any immediate safety threats were present, in which case all activities would’ve been ordered to stop, Ambrose said. In a written statement, however, the county applauded Dry Gulch for canceling weddings and ceasing to expose the public to potential risks.

Huntley said he wasn’t sure how long the court process will take but that he hopes to see some kind of resolution in the next year.

Meanwhile, Dry Gulch is open this winter for ghost town tours and catered skiing and snowshoeing tours.

For Zimmer, a Frisco resident who works as a teacher in Vail, the cancellation meant scrambling to find another place to get married.

Dry Gulch charged $5,000 for a wedding with 100 guests and $6,250 for 150 guests. The venue is cheaper than other Summit County locations and allowed couples to make more choices.

Though Zimmer and her fiancée wanted a rustic Colorado wedding, they will now marry in Chicago, closer to where they are from.

“The dream wedding was kind of coming together, and then, ugh,” she said. “It was like being crushed.”

Zimmer said she booked one of the last dates available for 2015, so she imagines other couples are upset. She added that the caterers, flower arrangers, musicians and photographers who had business lined up must be, too.

“I didn’t want to take business out of the county because we love it here so much,” she said.


Information from: Summit Daily News, https://www.summitdaily.com/

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