Last night, approximately 140 Santa Feans gathered for a public hearing on the proposed rezoning of part of Old Pecos Trail—what many like to call "the last scenic byway into Santa Fe"—from residential to commercial. And what a hearing it was: Neighborhood residents were educated, prepared and angry as hell.
The hearing started cordially enough, though perhaps the standing-room-only, line-out-the-door atmosphere in the Santa Fe Women's Club could have alerted city officials to the furor that would soon ensue. The hearing was part of an ENN—Early Neighborhood Notification—process designed to involve nearby residents in the process of what will eventually be a proposal to expand the venerable Pecos Trail Inn and rezone its property as commercial.
According to maps provided by city officials, most of the land around Old Pecos Trail is zoned as low-density residential (1-7 dwellings per acre). The Pecos Trail Inn is "legal nonconforming": a non-residential structure grandfathered into the surrounding neighborhood's zoning plan. But the Inn's owners, the Ellis family of El Paso, Tex., want to expand the motel by roughly 30 units, which would require rezoning the area for commercial use.
Residents' concerns center around two issues. First, some worry that a sort of domino effect
will follow, making it easier to rezone a lengthy strip of land along Old Pecos Trail (which the Ellis family also owns) and fill it with Burger Kings and gas stations, destroying the road's scenic quality. Second, they fear what could happen at the hotel itself
; many invoke Chilacas, a nightclub that once operated on the Inn's grounds, as an example of how what's sold as a quiet hotel can quickly turn to neighborhood blight.
Last night's meeting pitted Monica Montoya, the Ellis Family Partnership's land use consultant, against an angry and astonishingly well-prepared crowd. Montoya had an entire presentation planned, but it quickly degenerated into a heated Q&A. One of the hearing's climax points was when one resident pointed out that while Montoya had mentioned a 30-unit expansion of the Inn, a city notice had put the number at 33, and the maps Montoya provided showed only 25 new units. (Visit sfreeper.com
to see the maps.)
"It's 30 units," Montoya said.
"But the drawing shows 25!" the resident argued."The drawing is very conceptual,"
Montoya replied. The crowd erupted in raucous laughter.
Later in the evening, residents got Montoya to commit to ensuring that once the rezoning went through, the Ellises' plan for the property wouldn't suddenly change into, say, a strip mall.
"Yes. The intent for the use of this property is 30 additional units and the restaurant," Montoya said. "We are definitely committed to doing whatever is asked of us to make sure that use is not changed."
But even after that promise, neighborhood activist Mary Dykton stood and presented a spirited cry for solidarity—and resistance."I have learned to mistrust a number of people, even at the city,"
Dykton said, eliciting applause. "I said to myself, 'Dykton, this is not a charade,'" she continued. "There's money, honey, in everything. Let's fight this damned thing, you youngsters!"
Sustained applause greeted her, and a handful of residents filed out. The meeting had been going for an hour and a half already.
The Ellises haven't yet applied for the actual rezoning—according to ENN requirements, they're not allowed to do so until 10 days after yesterday's meeting—but whenever they do, it seems clear they'll have a fight on their hands.
See more photos at sfreeper.com