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Home / Articles / News / Local News /  Dumbfounded
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The former state building on E De Vargas Street was quietly sold this year.

Dumbfounded

Private property owners face less scrutiny under city historic preservation rules

August 20, 2014, 12:00 am

The owners of the upscale The Inn of Five Graces in Santa Fe’s historic Barrio de Analco quietly backed legislation that allowed them to purchase a state building, and when they did so, it allowed them to escape restrictive preservation provisions under the state’s Cultural Properties Act.

“We seem to [be] implying that we solely made the decision to sell the building. That ignores the fact that the buyer was probably behind the legislation and the governor’s office was aware of the sale proposal,” Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department General Counsel Bill Brancard wrote this summer.

The lawyer was responding to an email that the department’s Communications Director Jim Winchester was planning to send to SFR in response to inquiries about the building’s questionable sale [Cover story, July 23, “Sold Out”].

The real estate deal—which was brokered by state Sen. Phil A Griego, D-San Jose, for his friend Galisteo Street Inc. President Ira Seret—has left state preservation planners and some lawmakers feeling frustrated. Employees at the New Mexico Historic Preservation Office, who oversee more than 2,000 prehistoric and historic properties in New Mexico, tell SFR they’re concerned about what will happen inside the 19th-century building once current construction permits expire and jurisdiction of the building’s rehab is transferred to the City of Santa Fe.

Their angst may be justified. During the term of the state lease, hotel General Manager Sharif Seret was required to consult with the preservation office before making alterations or improvements to the building, which has been a contributing historic structure within the Barrio de Analco National Historic District and National Historic Landmark since the late 1960s.

Now, after having oversight on the building for more than four decades, state preservation officials also want to know why they were excluded from sale negotiations between the Serets and the natural resources department. In an email obtained by SFR through a public records request, Preservation Planning Manager Pilar Cannizzaro says she believes there is “something fishy” about the hurried sale of the building that ended her authority to critically review the hotelier’s plans to convert the building into a fitness center and spa for his guests.

"I’m totally dumbfounded by this turn of events. The sale of this property was wrong on so many levels."

“I’m totally dumbfounded by this turn of events. The sale of this property was wrong on so many levels,” Cannizzaro writes in another email to her division director Jeff Pappas.

Other documents show that Pappas and Cannizzaro first learned about the building’s sale after a June 23 meeting of Capitol Buildings Planning Commission charged with reviewing the sale of “surplus land.” (State legislators had approved the building as “surplus” in February.)

As late as this March, Cannizzaro was still writing natural resources Field Support Bureau’s Christy Tafoya and then-State Parks archaeologist Rebecca Procter to ensure that Seret’s design plans would not adversely affect the historic character and integrity of the structure.

On March 26, Tafoya reassured Cannizzaro that she and a State Parks architect had met with Seret’s architects to report that proposed designs for new doors and windows would not be approved. The group agreed to review additional proposals in April. But by mid-April, the Serets had signed a deal with Deputy Secretary Brett Woods to purchase the building instead. Pappas tells SFR his team should have received a professional courtesy notice about the building’s pending sale from managers at the natural resources department.

“We weren’t invited to testify at any of the legislative committee meetings,” says Pappas.

Next year, Pappas says he’ll ask lawmakers to change the rules and give his office more oversight.

Claims by Woods and Winchester that the building was sold in part because it was badly deteriorating don’t ring true for Cannizzaro and other members of the city’s historical preservation community.

In fact, a detailed Historical Cultural Properties Inventory form completed by Procter appears to contradict those statements. She checked a box that indicated the structure was “not endangered.” Cannizzaro’s primary concern, emails reveal, was Seret’s plans to alter the interior ceilings, not about the long odds of the roof falling in or adobe walls collapsing.

While Cannizzaro approved a design to reveal customary vigas and allowed the use of wood rather than flagstone for a backyard deck, she objected to Seret’s idea to add coves to the ceilings because it would lack “historical precedence.” Cannizzaro also opposed Seret’s plans to build an iron archway to an adjacent building built with river rocks because it would give a “false sense of history” to the façade.

With the deal done, Pappas and Cannizzaro are still trying to figure out why the building’s listing on the State Registry, National Register of Historical Places and National Historic Landmarks was not mentioned during two Capitol Buildings Planning Commission review meetings.

That’s also left bewildered Speaker of the House Ken Martinez, D-Grants, who chairs the commission. He claims he was misled by the resolution’s description of the sale as surplus land, “when it sits in the shadow of the capitol.”

Martinez and other commission members want their review to include ultimate approval of future deals before enabling legislation is introduced at the Roundhouse.

Going forward, Land Use Department Director Matthew O’Reilly says that city preservation rules only govern the exteriors of historic district buildings and won’t cover Seret’s future interior design plans.

Historic Santa Fe Foundation board member John Pen La Farge, who also serves as the Old Santa Fe Association president, says private building owners in Santa Fe’s historic district are supposed to preserve exteriors on view to the public, but can alter interior designs to fit their tastes as long as they meet normal construction and safety standards.

“It’s a concern,” say La Farge. “But there’s nothing anyone can do about it. It’s difficult to pass an ordinance that takes away their rights to do what they want on the inside.”

Seret declined SFR’s request for a follow-up interview, but insists, via email, that “the historic character of the building we purchased is important to us and will be preserved to the extent possible.”

Contact the reporter at Peter@SFReporter.com

 

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