Taos council firm on Indian Hills condemnation

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Indian Hills hotel owner John Slenes asked the town of Taos Council at a special meeting Monday (Jan. 22) to reverse its decision condemning the property on Paseo del Pueblo Sur.

The council told him "no."

Despite the testimony of Slenes and his legal representation, the council remained firm on its decision to condemn the property, which the district attorney has labeled a "public nuisance."

The hotel in February received an extensive laundry list of code violations from the town fire marshal. Many of the serious issues on the list had still not been addressed by the last inspection in November, according to Taos Fire Marshal Erik Oiesen-Vreeke. During the meeting, the council took no action on the appeal and urged Slenes to take it upon himself to fix the property.

"We have been dealing with this for three years," said Taos Town Manager Rick Bellis during the meeting.

Slenes and his wife Suzanne Slenes filed a petition in 8th Judicial District Court in June, seeking an injunction to prevent the town from demolishing the hotel. A non-jury trial is scheduled to begin in the case in March. Meanwhile, the town and Slenes are scheduled to begin mediation talks on Feb. 2.

As recently as March 2017, the town sent an order of demolition to the hotel based on several notices of failure to comply with code violations from the fire marshal, including a Feb. 22, 2017 meeting and inspection. The February inspection list detailed more than 100 violations in the hotel, including health concerns, such as mold and structural damage to the property. Oiesen-Vreeke presented photos from November documenting the on-going violations during Monday night's meeting.

Two buildings on the property remain vacant, including the south wing of hotel rooms and storefronts that line Paseo Del Pueblo Sur across from Smith's. Slenes said he has no current plans to rent the storefronts or open the south wing as the work to get them up to codes would be too costly and extensive.

"(The decision is) either sell it to somebody who has the resources and the imagination to bring it back to its level of past, or we're going to have to figure out how to get the money to put into it," said Slenes, an Albuquerque realtor who has owned and managed the hotel since 1975, according to his Linked In profile. "With the condemnation order and the emergency closure order, I can't get a lender to even talk about it. It's just not happening. I'm not sure what I'm doing."

Though he has had investors and potential buyers interested, Slenes has been unable to close any deals on the Indian Hills as he said buyers are skeptical once he discloses the town's classification of the building as "condemned."

Slenes said several times during the meeting that the condemned status of the hotel has prevented him from making these sales or getting any investors interested in putting any money into the hotel. The council countered by saying they have given the Indian Hills plenty of time to get the situation up to codes and said it was not the council's financial responsibility to get the building back to operating standards.

Photos from the Feb. 22, 2017 inspection obtained by the Taos News show various violations to the codes in the rooms and common areas at the Indian Hills including burnt electrical sockets, mold and loose or compromised electricity wires. Photos also show water damage and mold in the floors and ceilings in some of the rooms. According to Slenes, many of those smaller violations, such as the electrical sockets, have been fixed since the early inspection in 2017.

"This is a game of chase your tail, and we're not getting anywhere," said council member Judi Cantu at the end of the hearing. "This is absolute neglect on the part of the owner."

During the hearing, Slenes said he didn't believe the conditions of his hotel to be on the level of condemnation. Oiesen-Vreeke later retorted that he did not believe the hotel was suitable for human occupation due to health and safety concerns based on the information collected in his inspections. Oiesen-Vreeke said that it seemed as though some minor and major violations were fixed; however, several other issues remained with the property such as loose, live electrical wires that could potentially cause a fire combined with the water damage in the unoccupied and occupied areas of the hotel.

"It's more of a concern that if we're not doing our job and people die," Bellis said concerning the safety of the hotel, "we don't measure that in stars in our ratings. We measure that in lawsuits and criminal neglect."

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