Taos County Update on Dollar Store

By: Bill Whaley
22 October, 2011

(Editor’s Note: Caveat on Planning Issues: Community members need to organize early. Be prepared to keep the agent from an acquiring a “vested interest” due to a compliant planning department. (That’s what happened with the Outlaw garage.) Strike early and often. Regardless of Mr. Bellis’s best intentions, see below, the process is fraught with politics. For instance, why not find the Dollar Store a better location–near the Old Blinking Light–where there is plenty of commercial property. Relocate them.)

TO: Taos County residents concerned with this issue
FROM: The County Planning Director: <richard.bellis@taoscounty.org>
DATE: Friday October 21, 2011

A number of news sources have contacted me with questions about the proposed Family Dollar Store in El Prado, at Route 64 (Paseo del Pueblo Norte) and Ben Romero Rd., adjacent to the Overland Sheepskin complex of buildings; primarily in response to an email chain that you were part of.

It appears that many of those calling the press, calling the Planning Office or emailing me were on the above mailing list sent out, on which I was also copied.

In order to ensure that factual information is being disseminated, to prevent inaccurate rumors, to keep the public informed and involved and save my staff a lot of phone calls that won’t be able to add anything to the discussion, I wanted to contact those on the list with the following information:

(1.) WHO TO CONTACT: Rick Bellis, Public Information Officer and Director of Planning for Taos County will be the contact for information on this project; not Sr. Planner Edward Vigil. I can be contacted by email at any time, or you can call my office at 575-737-6304, but you will get an answer quicker by emailing just due to the number of calls we get daily on any number of matters.

(2.) EMAIL UPDATES: If you wish to be informed of the progress of this project or any development at this location, I will be maintaining an email list to keep the public and press informed when and if there is any movement at all on the project or when any hearings related to this site and project are scheduled, and as soon as they are scheduled. If you wish to be on that list simply hit “reply” in your email and type in “Yes” and you will automatically be on that list.

(3.) ON-GOING INFORMATIONAL SOURCES: We are working on an interactive web page for the county website that will list all pending and approved projects for the year and their status and we will announce when that is operational in case there are any other future development issues in the county that you wish to track in the future.

(4.) ADDRESSING THE RUMORS: Nothing has been approved for that store or site by any agency and nothing has formally been submitted to the County yet.

(5.) WHAT HAS HAPPENED SO FAR: The County Planning Dept. (including myself) have had two meetings with representatives of the current property owner. There is a contract of sale pending on the lot in question that is for the construction and lease of a Family Dollar Store at that location. No application has been submitted yet, however. The Dept. routinely meets with property owners or developers for proposed sites early in the process to provide input as to County development requirements; including what approvals and studies are necessary and various concerns the County might have. We were informed that the sale is contingent upon the owner or developer receiving the required County approvals. The County Planning staff have indicated that we have several concerns on the project and made several recommendations; more specifically with regards to parking, lighting, signage, how the entrance faces, and with whether the design is context sensitive to the character of the neighborhood, the surrounding buildings in the area, and to the site.

(6.) WHAT WILL HAPPEN: If a full application is submitted to the County Planning Department it will likely not happen before the end of the year. There remains a lot of work to do by the applicant. Approvals and studies by agencies other than the County might be required before we get an application. Once we receive the application and it is deemed complete the project would require a Special Use Permit (SUP) for a commercial use in a rural agricultural area and probably a variance for parking. Both the SUP and variance will require that neighbors within 1,000 feet of the property be notified by 1st class mail as to the proposed project and when a hearing will be held. It will also be published in the Taos News in the legal section, and the property will be posted at all corners with a sign announcing the same information. Because of the impact the project will have, the Planning Dept. will also be requesting the applicant to participate in a neighborhood meeting to explain the project, show what the developed building and site will look like, answer questions and to see if some of the concerns raised can be addressed by making changes prior to the public hearing. This type of early dialogue has worked well in the past in helping to inform the public, reach consensus (where possible) and to let the developer know what community concerns they are going to need to address in getting approvals.

(7.) THE APPROVAL PROCESS: the project would require both the SUP to be approved by the Planning Commission and the variance to be approved by the Board of County Commissioners. Either body can place conditions or restrictions on the project if they approve it, they can approve the project as proposed by the applicant, or they can deny the approval. A denial can be appealed by the applicant to the Planning Commission or Courts, and an approval can similarly be appealed by the objectors of record.

(8.) DESIGN CONSIDERATIONS: The developers have made a number of changes at the request of the County and property owner to make the building fit better into the character of the area. We have subsequently looked at the revised drawings, called the engineer for the project back in and requested additional changes in the appearance, the parking and the entrance. The applicant is considering these changes.

(9.) THE PROCESS FOR PUBLIC INPUT: All approvals involve a very public process and at least two very well publicized public hearings by law. Public review of all proposed plans prior to the hearings is also required, once they are available. While we do accept public input and comments once an application is received and noticed to the public, staff do not make the final decision and the most effective means of getting accurate information and getting your opinions and concerns considered is to attend the community informational meeting that will be held by the Planning Department and the public hearings on the application that the Planning Commission and County Commission would hold, if and when there is an application to consider.

In the interim, I will be happy to put anyone on the update mailing list of the County Planning Department for this project, as addressed earlier in this communication.

Taos County values the input of all its residents and the importance of a well informed public and will make every effort to answer your questions as accurately and thoroughly as possible.

We are committed to a fair, transparent and open process for considering any proposed development.

Sincerely,

Rick Bellis
County Planning Director

Book Review
A PAINTER OF OUR TIME
by John Berger

“As one grows older, every moment passes to one between the twin sentinels
of gratitude and fear.”

“At nine o’clock in the morning you are full of plans and ability and the
truth. At four o’clock in the afternoon you are a failure.”

“What separates talent from genius is nothing more nor less than
confidence: the ability not to be frightened of making a fool of
yourself.”

“As bourgeois society increasingly destroys and corrupts the general,
popular creative spirit, the experience of imaginative creation becomes
rarer and rarer till in the end people think there is some magical secret
for creativity. And so the search for this secret in the artist’s private
life.”

This and a number of other true and pithy statements are from the lips of
the London-based Hungarian refugee artist Janos Lavin. So true are these
excerpts from his diary that one has to remind oneself that this
brilliantly written character is fiction, totally the creation of John
Berger, himself a painter, art critic and writer.

This 1958 novel is suffused not only with the interior life of art, but
also with the presence of the now almost forgotten abortive Hungarian
revolution of 1956, in which the United States, after so much righteous
blather about the Evils of Communism stood by while the Soviet Union sent
in tanks against the predominantly youthful uprising.

One of the hallmarks of a really good book is that it continues to be
relevant. As we follow the Occupy Wall Street movement efflorescing all
over the world, this reminder of previous struggle, and the perennial
struggles of the artistic life is now even more cogent.—Joanne Forman (Your Favorite Composer)
DESERT FLOWER by Waris Dirie

Once upon a time, a lifetime ago, I was at a dinner party. Seated next to
me was a woman about to go off to Africa to do research for her doctoral
dissertation. Her subject? Female circumcision. What’s that, I wondered?
What on earth would you circumcise? She explained it to me.

I refused to believe her. I argued with her. She must be mistaken. Such a
thing couldn’t be.

But it was. And is.

DESERT FLOWER, by the Somali-born drop-dead gorgeous supermodel Waris
Dirie makes it only too clear. In this 3000 year-old custom, the clitoris
and labia majora are removed, with a sharp instrument, such as a razor
blade; the vaginal opening is sewn up so that nothing remains but an
opening the size of a matchhead. Mothers have this done to their own
daughters…on the wedding night, the husband cuts it open. One can
imagine what the girl’s initial sexual experience is like. One can imagine
the emotional affect upon a three-year old girl.

THIS IS NOT IN THE KORAN.

Traditionally, a girl who is not thus mutilated cannot be married; she is
a social pariah, on the level of a prostitute, and sometimes driven out of
her village.

As one can imagine, there is intense speculation how this ghastly rite of
passage got started. Attitudes that women are insatiable sexually unless
“curbed,” preoccupation with virginity–the origins are lost in history.

Waris Dirie was different. When her parents sold her, still a child, to be
the fourth wife of an older man, she ran away! Through a set of
circumstances, she made her way to London, where she became a maid at the
Somali Embassy. When that was closed down and she was threatened with a
return to Somalia, she ran away again.

One wonders what would have happened to her if she been homely. But she
isn’t. She had a long career as a model, and eventually spoke at the
United Nations on this topic. Her book, DESERT FLOWER, and the movie
version, have brought this issue to world attention, and gradually this
custom is being abandoned.

Yes, it’s another Triumph of the Human Spirit story. And we need them now
more than ever. –J.F.

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