P&Zers Confront Itinerant Professionals and Citizen Outrage

By: Bill Whaley
15 May, 2017

On May 18 at 6 pm the Town of Taos Planning and Zoning Commission will hold a hearing on the proposed design of the four-story hotel, a “box” masquerading as a “Holiday Inn Express.” A change in the building code to accommodate this single developer is a practice referred to as “spot zoning.” Spot zoning represents “special accommodations” for this truly challenged developer.

Critics claim the four-story hotel violates the architectural concepts associated with the low-lying earthy adobe style that connects the historic people of this place to the organic traditions of northern New Mexico villages and the historic roots of the community.

Further, the controversial dealings by the town manager, documented in emails and news reports, show how the Mayor, Manager, and a majority of Town Council members have ignored the opposition or public-at-large, including voters and now, former supporters of the Mayor and some council members.

By sacrificing the elements of the code that upheld the historic vision of the community, the politicians have also sacrificed the principles upon which the voters based their support. The combination of back-door dealing on the ill-fated Smith’s project and the outright tyranny associated with the Holiday Inn Express project has created an “unnecessary” but sharp “schism” in the community.

Manager Bellis and his itinerant professionals along with a Mayor and a particular Councilor who have switched rather than fight for a democratic process and open community discussion have turned themselves into political pariahs. A promising beginning for what voters saw as an honest “nuts and bolts” or “work glove” administration, based on the character of the candidates and their experience in the community, has turned into a deceptive and unethical series of political movidas, one unworthy of the ersatz character of the characters we voted for a few years ago.

I suppose when you have a President like Trump or a CEO like Luis Reyes at the Coop, you can expect a Mayor, Manager, and some councilors who reflect the “times” or “zeitgeist.” Ignoring customs, norms, ethics are all in a day’s work in today’s political environment.

But make no mistake, the rumbles and the whispers have begun, the aspiring candidates for mayor and council are gathering. The next Mayor will be someone, who can appeal to the majority of voters, both newcomers and natives; someone who acknowledges the customs and history as a whole, and wants to integrate the energy of the next generation, of newcomers and natives with the community. And maybe somebody who listens?

The Manager’s 70s era headdress does not fool those who resent top-down imperatives. The Mayor’s pig roasts, Christmas Tree Lights, and photo-ops don’t fool those who know he lies abut his residence, ignores the code and ordinances, and has dallied with outsiders for insider perks. Muttering about saving the acequias or giving lip service to “what the people want” does not fool former Hahn supporters.

Taos’s famed assets that pay off year after year include the geography, the beauty, the history, the organic and authentic culture that produces a feeling, a feeling to which some are attracted and to which some are tone deaf (like the Town government).

The cycles of drought (like the cycles of tourism) indicate how little control the community has over its high desert mountainous geography, and climate (or how little control over the national economy). As the community’s art scene has lost energy the private club and music scene have picked up energy. The recreation and outdoor enthusiasm have endured.

(I’m not sure whether the Town’s public concerts merely emulate the corporate resort culture or undermine the unique gang of local musicians who keep the sound alive all year round.)

A number of small creative manufacturers in Taos are operating and distributing nationwide. Taos has always been a community of subcultures, idiosyncratic fishing and rafting guides or a place to enjoy the joie de vivre of drinking dining, and doing a little of this and that freely and according to temperament. The long-term visitors and the new younger millennial crowd come to Taos for the camping, the B&Bs, the Airbnbs, the authentic funk and fun.

Ugly hotel Boxes are common to the exits on the Interstate. We have no interstate. Two prior Holiday Inns have died in Taos as has a legendary “Best Western.” We have a great big private convention center thanks to the Sagebrush. Why doesn’t the Town work with other motel owners, whose places are in a state of disrepair? Show a little respect for those who brought you to the dance? The Town and the Coop make big promises but the trickle down doesn’t work here except for the elected politicos who like to travel or exercise their egos.

This Mayor, Manager, and Council are campaigning for a decades old paradigm. Just as the Coop can’t keep up with diversification or Broadband or solar, so the Town can’t keep up with the fast-changing techno-economics of tourism and the climate that drives it today.

Doing less is doing more. The Town ought to do what municipalities are good at: fix the streets, clean up the dirt and debris, get rid of all the extra signs, and implement a fair planning code. Help the locals (native and newcomer). Similarly the Coop ought to stick to electricity, something they are good at.

When the Mayor turned the Town over to Bellis, Barrone lost his “work gloves” and his integrity. As for “What happened to Fritz,” the former defender of small business? Quien sabe, mis amigos.

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