“They had to have told you about us,” someone piped up at Ross Shaver.The project manager for Pilot Flying J appeared to take the comment in stride. It wasn't his first community meeting, but the audience of neighbors to his proposed project had a self confidence born of similar experience protesting development. “It’s interesting you picked up on that,” Santa Fe planning consultant Jim Siebert tells SFR about his client. “Because I did tell them.”Siebert and Shaver spent the evening pitching a new travel center—a truck stop before someone figured out a more gentle name—to those who cared to listen. And while 60 or so people gathered at the Genoveva Chavez Community Center Tuesday night did care to listen, not many were buying the pitch.“It’s gonna bring traffic like you wouldn’t believe. It’s gonna bring noise like you wouldn’t believe,” retired parole officer Joe Glen told the crowd when he got a chance to speak. He recently left Arizona, where there was a similar travel center along Interstate 10. “I didn’t move to Rancho Viejo to undergo this.”This proposed Flying J would be a full-on travel center at the southwest corner of Highway 14 and I-25, just off the new diverging diamond interchange that feeds Cerrillos Road to the north. The development would become part of the largest diesel fuel retailer in North America, and the largest owner-operator of fast food franchises in the country.The location of a proposed Pilot Flying J travel center
Plans call for the Pilot Flying J station to feature a Wendy’s, a Dunkin’ Donuts and an in-house restaurant, along with a driver’s lounge, showers, fuel stations for trucks and cars and 70 parking spaces for what Shaver promised would be a “24/7/365” operation.
The fuel giant is under contract to buy a 10-acre piece of land, provided Santa Fe County signs off on a conditional use permit. Siebert tells SFR that Pilot Flying J will complete traffic, environmental, fiscal and water studies before handing in its application at the end of May.
Along with noise and traffic, several people worried about the air that would waft eastward toward their homes from the truck stop. Shaver promised the travel center would abide by local pollution rules, but said he didn't plan on paying for an air quality study that wasn't required.
"I walk out to the smell of coffee and pancakes in the morning," one woman told him.
"Well, hopefully you'll smell Wendy's and Dunkin' Donuts soon," Shaver offered. He received jeers in return.
Pilot Flying J doesn't own the land yet. Currently, the title is held by Rancho Viejo Partnership, which also developed much of the community that brought angry residents out to complain on short notice.
Because the county only requires developers to notify people who own land within 500 feet of the property, many homeowners in Rancho Viejo and the Turquoise Trail subdivision at the corner of highways 14 and 599 heard about the meeting through word of mouth or online.
That’s how Megan Velasquez ended up at the Chavez Center. A social worker, she bought her home in Turquoise Trail 10 years ago and now lives there with her husband.
“You have to understand, you’re in Santa Fe, New Mexico,” she told Shaver. “There are a lot of educated people here who care about where they live.” She won a smattering of applause. As the evening wore on, though, Velasquez had heard enough.
“This, to me, is designed to disempower residents as much as possible,” she says to SFR outside the meeting. “This is a little show they put on.”
As Velasquez continued, a disgusted Stephen Linam walked past.
“This is bullshit,” Linam said, stopping a few feet away to offer his thoughts. “This is the biggest bunch of ‘not-in-my-backyard’ bullshit. Tell me you never get gas or go to a Pilot.”
He accepted a business card from SFR and walked off. He phoned half an hour later.
“‘Not in my backyard’ is part of human DNA. I understand that. But I think in the universe of businesses that might attempt something on that piece of property, they actually seem to be a good corporation,” Linam tells SFR. “I was intemperate when I spoke as I was walking out. I was frustrated. Of course I’d rather have a kitten petting zoo there or something like that. But I don’t think that’s going to happen.”
Linam works part-time as a consultant. He and his retired wife moved to Rancho Viejo from Austin, Texas, three and a half years ago. He doesn’t buy the argument that his property value will tank if there’s a truck stop a couple miles down the road, but he admits the project will make daily drives less pleasant.
“Sure. Traffic is going to be worse and I’d rather not have more of it,” he says. “But I will trade more traffic for somebody down the street getting a job they didn’t have.”
For her part, Velasquez says, “I’ve been to a Pilot. I patronize them when I travel. Of course I like the idea of jobs—good, safe jobs. But it sounds like these jobs are in fast food; there’s not a lot of upward mobility. I’m not against Pilot. But why here? Why not outside our community?”
Like Velasquez and like Linam, most of the people who showed up didn’t look pleased when they left. Many promised a loud voice at public hearings. Siebert, the planning consultant, says there will be at least two—in front of a hearing officer probably by the end of July, and before the county Planning Commission, which could happen by the end of September if everything goes according to plan.
Tuesday evening, it seemed, there were a few dozen people determined to make sure it wouldn’t.