The fate of the Camino Fiesta subdivision application was finally decided Tuesday night (April 27) after the town of Taos council voted unanimously to overturn the town planning and zoning commission’s original denial of the application.
On Monday (April 26), the councilors made a group visit to the proposed development site, where they met Alex Abeyta of Abeyta Engineering, who was acting as the representative for the applicant, Kevin Abrams of Conroad Associates, LP.
During the site visit, the councilors were each given a map of the proposed development, and had a chance to ask questions about various aspects of the land. After a half hour walk around the property, the council returned to Town Hall, taking no action.
During the meeting on Tuesday, town of Taos manager Rick Bellis explained that the unique nature of the meeting called for the public hearing to be closed, and he suggested that the council go into a closed executive session to discuss further legal questions with the town attorney Stephen Ross.
After nearly 45 minutes of closed discussion, the council appeared again on the live Zoom stream, where Ross explained that the council deliberated the matter of the appeal and took no action. Quickly after, the council went straight into a vote.
Councilman Fritz Hahn made the motion to overturn the denial of the Camino Fiesta application, and listed several reasons for his decision.
In terms of the acequia that runs through the property – the Acequia de los Archuletas diversion dam – Hahn pointed out that the ditch has been impacted by urban uses and structures, and that there was no evidence of recent use. He also noted that the Taos Soil and Water Conservation District verified the acequia as non-functional.
Concerning the traffic study that was conducted by an NMDOT engineer who was unlicensed at the time, Hahn made clear that he felt the peer review and revalidation of the study was acceptable.
Hahn also reminded that the wetlands study that was conducted classified the area as an “upland” rather than a “wetland”, and that an agreement had been reached with the concerned neighbors to the north at the Residencias del Rio Pueblo, who had been against the project for some time.
At the end, Hahn made note that Abeyta was not at fault. “I’d like to caution those opposed not to blame Mr. Abeyta. He has presented a strong case that adheres to all the planning and zoning requirements,” he said. “His job is to represent the case, and he has done that job. He is not to blame.”
Hahn said that “though the project adheres to the letter of the law, it falls short of living up to the spirit of the law.” He said that the the applicant had adhered to all of the ordinances as currently written, but for things to be different in the future, “our newly reforming planning and zoning commission and the town council will need to revise our ordinances” to more closely align with the Vision 2020 and Strong at Heart campaigns (both are plans by the town for how to address and handle future growth).
Hahn also warned of potential legal trouble were the council to deny the application, saying that a denial “could possibly be interpreted as being arbitrary and capricious in an appeal to District Court and probable suit in the 10s of millions of dollars.”
After making his case for the approval of the application and making a motion, councilman Nathanial Evans quickly seconded. A roll call vote was called, and one by one the councilors all voted to overturn the denial of the application.