The neighbors of the recently proposed Desert Flower Camping Resort on County Road 110, have filed an appeal of the approved special use permit granted by the Taos County Planning Commission in May.
Emily Gillispie and her husband Joe Mazza are two of the closest neighbors to the proposed 'glampground,' and filed the appeal with the support of many members of the neighborhood, hoping the Taos County Board of Commissioners will deny the application submitted by Jody and Xochitl Wodrich.
Gillispie said the Desert Flower Camping Resort should be denied because they believe two of the Taos County Land Use Regulations are not being met, specifically the requirements for usage compatibility (how it fits into the surrounding area) and visual impact.
When the commission voted in May to approve the special use permit, two commissioners voted against the application, citing the above-mentioned requirements. Regardless, the rest of the commission voted in favor.
The 4.99-acre site located approximately 1.5 miles west of the Taos Country Club would consist of 24 total glamping tents (built in two phases), two bathrooms/bath-houses, and a host trailer.
"There are no similar structures to any of these in this neighborhood. Currently, it's all residential. So it's not possible that they've met these two requirements for compatibility use, nor visual impact," said Gillispie.
In the planning commission meeting, commissioner Ken Manning noted this as well, and called the approval of the application "spot zoning."
Gillispie and Mazza brought up that the land use regulations state if the proposed build doesn't fit in with the surroundings, then perhaps it provides some substantial benefit to the area, but both said they disagree the glampground would do that. "Not only is it not providing a substantial benefit, it's providing a substantial adverse impact," said Gillispie.
Among their other concerns, and those of 161 others who have signed a petition to stop the Desert Flower Camping Resort, are traffic and road troubles, potential litter and water usage. "Another big concern we have is fire danger, we are often in a high drought situation, it's pretty much our norm, and it's windy every afternoon," said Gillispie
Being adjoining neighbors to the proposed site, Gillispie and Mazza have even more concerns than other neighbors living on County Road 110. "Some of us are so close to the glamping area that they will be able to see us from our backyard and we'll be able to see them and hear them."
Mazza said there is "potential for lots of things to happen. Anywhere from trespassing upon our property ... to animals off their leashes coming over. Lots of various different things that could happen."
They also raised concern about their properties being devalued. "Not that we'd want to leave," said Gillispie, "but you never know what will happen ... We had been wanting to spend the rest of our lives here. It's a very special place."
Mazza stressed that though they do not approve of the campground, they "think it's important that people know that we're not opposed to having neighbors. When we moved out here, the idea was that certainly some of these parcels could be sold, but the thought was [it would be] for single family residences. We don't want to give the impression that we don't want anybody out here."
When asked if there was a right way to build the glampground, Mazza said bluntly: "I don't see anything that they could do, except take back the application." He also questioned why they wanted to build a site there in the first place. "It doesn't really quite frankly make sense. It is not anywhere close to an ideal camping site, by way of weather and animals and insects and no shade," he said.
He admitted that the Desert Flower Camping Resort "looks like a lovely idea, other than the fact that it is right smack dab in the middle of a residential neighborhood. If they could find another location, that would be great."
Other neighbors close to the proposed campground have also voiced their opinions, citing similar concerns to Gillispie and Mazza. Jared Bella, who lives in the 1,000-foot radius of the development site, said his main concern is the fire hazard.
"We're surrounded by dry sage, it's a generally dry environment, and it can get extremely windy, so having up to a couple of dozen open campfires is a legitimate concern that I think everybody in the neighborhood shares," said Bella.
His other main concern is how the development would fit into the surrounding area. "They could definitely find an area which would be more appropriate," he said. "The experience they wish to create, it just doesn't work here. There's no shelter, there's no trees, it gets extremely windy, and it can be extremely hot … It seems obvious that they don't understand the dynamics of this immediate environment."
Jean Stevens, who was one of the first homeowners in the area, said she felt the location was an example of "absolutely inappropriate zoning." Stevens was one of the first homeowners in the area and has lived there for 28 years. "I really love this community. But I feel like I'm being pushed out just because the whole reason why I moved here is being destroyed."
Kirstie Segarra, another neighbor who lives within 1,000 feet of the campground and was the third homeowner in the area, said she shares the same concerns about land use compatibility. "I know they're calling it glamping … but I would say that calling it a hotel is more realistic than just a campground."
Segarra said she felt there should be more long-term impact studies done, and worried that bringing a commercial development to the neighborhood "sets a precedent to change the usage of this area from residential to commercial - which isn't what any of us invested in when we came out here."
Nearby neighbor Anita Rodriguez agreed, and said she felt "before any more development takes place, I think that what we need to do is seriously estimate what our limitations are." Rodriguez said she fears the additional ecological damage tourists would bring to the area.
Jody and Xochitl Wodrich defended their decision to build the Desert Flower Camping Resort off County Road 110, and said they felt perhaps neighbors were reacting from a place of emotion.
"We looked at all the different areas that had property for sale, and we spoke to our engineer Alex Abeyta. And he felt like this neighborhood was a great area based on the zoning, based on the location," said Xochitl Wodrich.
The Wodrich's said they felt blindsided by the complaints initially, given they said the neighbors they first talked to seemed supportive of their effort. Xochitl Wodrich said they have listened to and understand the neighborhood's concerns, but they feel they have taken the appropriate measures to address many of the issues raised.
"We understand their point, and are trying to be very respectful of their privacy and was trying to meet with them on ways we could create privacy around around them and between us," said Jody Wodrich. "At this point, [the neighbors] just don't want to meet or have any conversations about that. So, you know, we're still trying … We understand their passion for the land, and we have passion for the land as well."
They explained they have taken measures to address issues like water, fire, wildlife and more. They said the 4.99 acres allows them enough water for one household, and said it would be the same were they to build their own house on the land.
They also said they have taken fire into account and have been in touch with the fire marshal. "We're very aware of the dangers of fires," said Xochitl. "We're from Southern California … and we've experienced fires, as most people from Southern California do."
Wildlife permits have also been obtained by the couple. "I think a lot of the information that is put out there is emotional and sensationalism and wants to get people riled up where it's not really true," she added.
Jody said it's their goal to create "a place where people could experience the outdoors and experience the healing that outdoors brings, without all the discomforts of sleeping on a sleeping bag on the floor."
Of the appeal, the Wodrich's said they expected it and imagine it going even further than the initial appeal. "Whether or not this business gets approved, we love Taos and we want to be here. And if that's not the right spot … we're open to finding something that is, but we're here and we're not going anywhere," said Xochitl. The couple and their children have purchased a house in Taos and said they are "here to stay."
The appeal before the Taos County Board of Commissioners is scheduled for Tuesday, Aug. 10 at 3 p.m.