Local Artist and Citizen Speaks Out on Proposed Hotel

By: Contributor
27 June, 2017


The following are comments for the Town of Taos Council and Mayor, to be presented in regards to Mr. Jay Batra’s plans for a four story Holiday Inn Express lodging on South Santa Fe Road in the Town of Taos, near the boundary with Ranchos de Taos. The hearing by will be today, Tuesday, June 27th, 3:00 PM at Taos Town Council Chambers.

Comments by Hank Saxe.

The Town of Taos planning department established architectural design standards for buildings with the intent of having new construction conform with a traditional style that both residents and visitors respect and cherish. These standards require that buildings over a certain size be designed with attention to massing and setbacks, in order to create structures with the complexity of local historic adobe architecture, even when created with modern building materials.


Last fall, the town council, with the tie breaking vote of Mayor Daniel Barrone, acceded to the demands of an Ohio developer, Jay Batra, and created a hotel overlay zone, specifically to accommodate hotels that would exceed the long established building height limit. The hotel developer’s architect Mr. Hussain has again presented a design that is still essentially a rectangular box with minimal setbacks and only superficial punctuations of the exterior envelope. The developer insists on a four story structure, and has refused to conform his plans to Town of Taos architectural standards.


This is not the first time that the town government has been assaulted by an external corporate entity that has insisted that codes and regulations be changed to serve their model of how things must be done. Between 1999 and 2003 there was a concerted push to build a Walmart Supercenter on the south side of Taos. Town ordinances did not allow a building of the size and layout that Walmart’s management in Arkansas insisted that they absolutely needed in order to go forward. There was opposition to the store for many reasons, including social, economic, and architectural concerns.


The developer demanded a radical increase in the town’s building size limit. Taoseños Against Walmart Super Stores was created to fight the plan. A leader of this group was a citizen and small business owner named Fritz Hahn, who is now Taos Town Councilor Hahn. Walmart and its allies, including a determined and pushy Chicago developer, tried a number of tactics to sway the public and the town government to accede to their unalterable demands that town codes be changed to fit their corporate model.

They insisted that if laws weren’t changed to accommodate them, then Taos would miss out on their corporate presence. They refused to design a facility that met the town’s standards. They pushed the town council to vote on changing the regulations to allow their plans, based on the same repetitive template they use everywhere. There was intense pressure from both sides. “We’re against the big box, and we’re for small businesses and small farms,” opposition organizer Fritz Hahn said at a rally in 2003. Walmart threatened to close their existing smaller store if they couldn’t get the big box they wanted.


When it came to a vote, the town council deadlocked, two for knuckling under and changing the town regulations, and two against. It was then up to the mayor to cast a tie breaking vote. With a deadlocked council, Mayor Bobby F. Duran listened to the citizenry, rose to the occasion, broke the tie in favor of maintaining the town’s standards, and became a hero. A Walmart Supercenter was not built, and eventually the parcel targeted for the development, which was zoned commercial, was rezoned as agricultural, at the owner’s initiative. The site today does have a small farming operation on it.


Now, we have another situation where the Town Council and Mayor are asked to make large concessions to a corporate entity and developer for one specific project, a four story hotel that would forever brand Taos as just another look-alike town on the way to somewhere else.


The developer, his realtor, and his architect have gotten huge concessions from the town already. They have a hotel zone which was tailor-made for them. They have blown away the long-standing building height limit. They were asked by the Town planning office, to conform with architectural standards, and they have not done so. They have worn down the volunteer citizens planning and zoning council, who have given up and deferred approval or rejection to the Town Council and Mayor.


It is now up to the Council and Mayor to preserve the integrity of the Town’s architectural standards, for citizens and visitors alike. They can deny the proposal, and they can call for further revisions until the architect produces a design that meets the requirements of the recently enacted standards. It should be up to the architect to make a plan that works for both his client and for the public.


If it means going to three stories instead of four, maybe that’s a compromise that could work. If it means designing a building that actually incorporates the Town’s massing and setback requirements, that should be done. Until the developer comes to terms with the Town’s architectural standards, the proposal as it stands should be rejected. If the Councilors and Mayor will do that, they will be heroes for their constituents and for the millions of others who love Taos for what it is.

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