Ranchos de Taos is taking the first steps to have the area designated as a Traditional Historic Community. Much like El Prado’s efforts last year – which paid off in January – Ranchos de Taos and the surrounding neighborhoods (Llano Quemado, Talpa, La Cordillera, and Los Córdovas) hope the push for a Traditional Historic Community (THC) designation will help to protect and preserve the culture of the area and prevent them from being annexed into the town.
The effort is being spearheaded by the Ranchos de Taos Neighborhood Association, who have just started the initial efforts of getting the word out to local residents. The THC push also has the support of El Valle de los Ranchos Water and Sanitation District, which currently supports all of the five neighborhoods that make up the proposed ‘Las Comunidades del Valle de los Ranchos.’ El Valle’s district also serves as the proposed boundary for the THC.
Goals of the THC designation
“There’s so much culture and so much tradition that people aren’t aware of,” said Rose Des Georges, vice president of the Ranchos de Taos Neighborhood Association. She described her deep roots in the Llano Quemado area, where her grandparents owned a house. She said that even after working in Los Alamos and having the opportunity to move away, she stuck to her roots. “We tend to go about our daily lives forgetting how important that history is to who we are.”
Des Georges said the agricultural nature of the community that helped her family survive is the history and culture she hopes to see protected by the THC designation.
Liz Vasquez Rodrígeuz, a board member of the Ranchos de Taos Neighborhood Association, also said that her ancestral ties to the area are ones she hopes to uphold. Rodríguez’s family has been in the area for four generations, and she attended the San Francisco de Asís Mission Church when it still functioned as a school. “[The Ranchos area] has a lot of families that are generational. A lot of the families that still live here, and they’ve expanded to add their children,” she explained.
Rodríguez said she got behind the effort in order to prevent unwanted change from coming to the community. Like many others involved in the push for a THC designation, Rodrígeuz said she got started when a Family Dollar store was proposed to be built in Ranchos de Taos along Paseo del Pueblo Sur in 2017.
“One thing I’m afraid they might try is to put corporations in here like they tried to do with the Family Dollar store. We don’t want any kind of business like that. It’s a small community we want to keep it as is,” she said.
“Rural is definitely part of who the community is,” said Elizabeth ‘Betsy’ Martínez, another Ranchos de Taos Neighborhood Association board member, who, along with her husband Robert Martínez (who runs Joe’s Service Center), is in support of the effort. They said they believe the THC designation will help preserve the rural and local nature of the ranches. Martínez also said that so far, everybody she has talked to has been in favor of the THC designation. “I haven’t met anybody who doesn’t want it yet.”
Water district support
Currently, the proposed territory for the THC has the same boundary as El Valle de los Ranchos Water and Sanitation District, which runs south to the base of the Picuris Mountains, shares an eastern border with State Road 382, and a western border that heads north and crosses State Road 68, essentially encompassing much of the Cristóbal de la Serna Land Grant.
F.R. Bob Romero, chairman of the board for El Valle Water and Sanitation District said that they have written a letter of support for the proposed THC. Romero also shared similar concerns about annexation.
“Generally there’s a concern about the town imposing its boundaries, extending into the ranches,” said Romero. “For myself, I think that they should not annex into the El Valle district.”
Romero said it looks like there is “a lot of support” from residents throughout the area that includes “community centers and the mutual water domestics.” Romero said he felt that all of the five areas included in the proposed THC – including much of the farmland – deserve the THC designation. “It involves the religion, the language, agricultural customs of irrigating and planting. That’s why it’s called Los Ranchos.”
Andrew Chavez, treasurer for El Valle said that each one of the communities has a unique history and a common connection. “Way back when, the people from all these communities went to church at the St. Francis church,” he explained. Each community also contained its own ‘capilla’ – or chapel, that was affiliated with the St. Francis church.
“All these little organizations that exist in communities, like our mutual domestic [water system], they help people stay together and work together to solve the problems of their community. When you remove the ability to do that at the lowest level, that creates other issues in your community,” Chavez said.
Chavez also said protecting the acequia system is one of the biggest factors in his support for the THC. “If you look at what has happened to the acequias that were in town, basically they have disappeared, or are no longer used for the purpose that they used to be,” he said.
Perhaps the biggest hurdle for the THC designation is its proposed border. While the Ranchos de Taos Neighborhood Association maintains that each of the areas has their own unique history that makes the whole area eligible for the THC designation, the town of Taos believes the neighborhood association is asking for too much land – specifically open land with no residential or historic structures.
The town maintains it does not have any intention of annexing Ranchos de Taos, but worries about being completely boxed in. Town manager Rick Bellis said the town fully supports the THC designation for Ranchos “and the immediate surrounding area,” but they are opposed to the designation being applied to open lands they feel do not have the same historical significance.
“The maps that have been proposed for both [El Prado and Ranchos de Taos] are far in excess of what the intent of the legislation was,” Bellis said.
Cynthia Patterson, director of the Ranchos de Taos Neighborhood association, and her partner Hank Saxe, secretary of the association, who have been leading the THC effort for several months, say the acequia system itself counts as a historic structure.
“The debate was really about what the extent of the proposal should be ... what the geographic area should be,” said Saxe of the border debate with the town.
Saxe said that there are about 20 acequias throughout the valley. “You can’t really break up the acequia systems. You can’t cut them off part way down their legs and still have the other portions be successful,” he said. He and Patterson said this is an argument they will be presenting to the Taos County Board of Commissioners, who have the ultimate authority in the decision to designate the area as a THC.
“[The boundary] should include everything from where the first [acequia] diversion is, until the water runs out at the lower end. We will be making the case to the county commission that all of the communal lands that were set forth under these original grants should be included,” said Saxe.
Bellis said this application of the THC designation is technically illegal by the legislation, which he said is to preserve historic communities that have physical, cultural structures, not just empty land. This issue came up when El Prado was attempting to get its THC designation, and the town proposed a small THC boundary, claiming it was illegal for them to add undeveloped or unused land to the THC. The county commission sided with El Prado in that matter, saying they believed the land used to farm and irrigate should be included in the THC.
Bellis said that decision set a dangerous legal precedent. “These are political, arbitrary borders being drawn with with what appears to be the intent of blocking-in the town and making sure that the town can never expand,” he said.
“We are in general support of both [Ranchos and El Prado] remaining culturally and historically unique and separate and apart from the town,” Bellis added. “We would be happy to work with them on developing historic protections for their architecture, and their buildings, which this designation does not give.”
Bellis also pointed out when he and Nathan Sanchez – the town’s planning economic and community development director – both worked as planners for Taos county, they focused their efforts on creating a different kind of historical designation. “[We] spent the better part of two years meeting with David Maes, the community groups at the schools, and the Talpa Center to try to actually create historic zoning and design standards for Ranchos and recommended that they be adopted by the county to reflect the wishes of the people there,” he said, but noted that unfortunately the efforts didn’t come to fruition.
Bellis says the town sees other ways for the Ranchos de Taos community to go ahead with protecting their land and culture without a THC designation. “I think overlaying that historic zoning designation would go a long way… to protect the community.” He also doesn’t believe a THC designation provides the protections the community is seeking. “Any property owner that petitions the town to be annexed could be annexed in,” he said.
Going forward, it seems neither side is budging on the border issue, which could launch them into long legal discussions. Regardless, the citizens of the Ranchos de Taos area are going ahead with their plan as is. The next step is formally submitting the THC application to the county, and then collecting the signatures of at least 25 percent of all the registered voters in the area, which is over 1,100 according to Saxe and Patterson. With the support of many of the residents, they say it shouldn’t be too hard.