Opinion: Kit Carson Park not being used as town agreed to with state

By William Burden, Taos
Posted 8/1/19

A citizens' group, Friends of Kit Carson Park, has been formed. One of its purposes is to oppose the location of and the use of a professional concert stage within the park. (It does …

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Opinion: Kit Carson Park not being used as town agreed to with state

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A citizens' group, Friends of Kit Carson Park, has been formed. One of its purposes is to oppose the location of and the use of a professional concert stage within the park. (It does not oppose other musical events in the park).

Kit Carson Park was deeded to the town of Taos in September 1990 by the state of New Mexico. Previously, in March 1988, the town had entered into a Joint Powers Agreement with the state concerning the maintenance and use of the park. The town agreed to "maintain the park for its original purpose and to continue to operate the facility as a park and for no other purpose" and to operate it "exclusively as a park."

The deed from the state contains an automatic forfeiture clause: "At such time as the town of Taos shall fail to operate and maintain the above described real property for the purposes set forth herein and in accordance with the terms and conditions of Joint Powers Agreement ..., title of the subject real property in the town of Taos shall terminate and automatically revert to the state of New Mexico."

Automatic forfeiture would occur as a result of a judicial proceeding if a judge found that the park was no longer operated for its original purpose.

Currently, the open area of the park, south of the drive to the playground, has been converted into a concert and vendor venue. To facilitate large concerts, the town has installed a permanent large concert stage to address the requirements of concert promoters. The AMP Concerts director hopes to make the park a destination concert venue. In addition, the town has installed perimeter and interior fencing, rerouted an acequia lateral, trenched footings next to existing trees and removed trees, including a historic cottonwood tree. It has also installed concrete ramps and a pad in front of the stage to allow access by trucks carrying sound equipment.

For this summer, as many as three moveable latrines, 35 feet long, 10 feet high, will be used. There are plans to install them on a semipermanent basis on concrete pads next to the Taos Community Auditorium. (See the Town Park Renovation Plan.) The latrines do not provide the minimum number of urinals required for concerts, as specified by the Town Plumbing Codes, nor are they ADA compliant.

Alcohol will be sold, even though "The sale and/or possession of alcoholic beverages is strictly prohibited at any fiesta, carnival or festival." (Town Code Section 5.08.100) Alcohol sales is also contrary to park regulations adopted in 2007, as is overnight camping which has been permitted by the town manager. Concerts will continue into late evening at sound levels which will be above those authorized by the town code. (According to IAC Acoustics, a sound engineering firm in Illinois, the typical sound level for a rock concert near the stage is 108 to 114 decibels, considered the average human pain threshold.)

The Town's Parks & Recreation Master Plan 2018 Executive Summary recommends park improvements that are low-impact. It characterizes the park as "central to the community consciousness ... a cherished open space enriched by cultural events." (p. 2) However, the town's current administration is concerned with enrichment of a different character. The stage which the town has installed has the capacity for computer programmable lighting and increased sound amplification. These capacities are necessary to host the musical groups that will appear here this summer. Louder amplification is necessary for bigger crowds, as is the sale of alcohol. Bigger crowds and more frequent concerts are necessary to generate more gross receipt taxes for the town.

Is the park still being operated for its original purpose exclusively as a park? Consider the following: Between July 1 and Labor Day, there will be three separate concerts in Kit Carson Park over seven days. (One of these concerts is free, the rest are not.) Two of these concerts are three-day events, one a single-day event. In addition, there will be a minimum of 12 days before and after the three concerts (two days before and two days after each concert) for installation and removal of sound equipment, vendor stalls, fencing, other necessary infrastructure and park cleanup. Added to the seven concert days, this results in a total of 19 days this summer when the park's traditional use will be disrupted to a significant degree, and on six of those days the general nonpaying public will be excluded from the park.

These facts answer the question asked above. No, the park is not being used for its original purpose exclusively as a park. The looming presence of the massive stage and its commercial use are affecting adversely the traditional use of the park and the cultural cohesion of the community. Using the park to raise money to finance its activities does not excuse the town's failure to comply with the terms of the 1988 Joint Powers Agreement, the agreement the town entered into which allowed it to acquire its ownership of Kit Carson Park.

(See above-referenced documents, except Town Master Plan, at kcparkfriends.com.)

William Burden is a Taos resident who lives a few blocks from Kit Carson Park.

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