PECOS — Cow Creek's gurgling waters flow past the front of scattered dwellings in a lush, half-hidden hinterland before merging with the Pecos River — and now, some longtime landowners fear that a proposed development upstream could ruin their idyllic slice of paradise. 

Santa Fe businessman Gerald Peters wants to build 65 homes on the 1,200-acre Cow Creek Ranch that he recently bought for $7.5 million. 

The subdivision would be built in four phases over a 20-year period on the sprawling property, which sits below the creek's headwaters and is cradled in federal forestland. 

The first phase calls for 19 homes to be built by 2025 on parcels ranging from 2 acres to 7 acres, mostly near the creek. Subsequent phases would have lots as large as 12 acres. The houses would be equipped with wells and septic systems. 

Although referred to as "cabins," Peters' team has described the homes as having two to three bedrooms.  

Few people live full time in the Cow Creek area, though many own properties that have been in their families for decades and serve as a pastoral getaway. 

Owners there worry the project, which they consider way too large, will strain groundwater supply, generate too much traffic, pollute the creek with septic runoff and bring in careless outsiders who don't respect nature and increase wildfire risks. 

Aside from degrading the area's rural character, said Edmundo Lucero, 83, the outsized project will destroy yet another piece of the old New Mexico that enchanted him when he moved here in 1957 and is gradually vanishing. 

"All the small Northern New Mexico towns are being taken over by this kind of development," said Lucero, a Santa Fe resident who bought property a few miles downstream from the ranch when he retired. "I can see nothing but a big old mess up there." 

But in emailed statements, Peters insisted he planned to build a fishing resort that would be zoned agriculture with large parcels, making it less dense than the nearby village. And it will be imperative to protect the creek's water quality because the subdivision will be centered on fishing, he wrote. 

"Simply put, my intentions at Cow Creek Ranch are very focused on land and water stewardship," Peters wrote. "The development does not threaten the quality of lifestyle or the environment that currently exists. Fishing is not the threat it is being worked up to be."

An application for the project first appeared in early 2020, but like many other projects, it was delayed during the pandemic, said Amanda Salas, San Miguel County's planning supervisor. 

The county is consulting with various state agencies such as the Environment Department, the Forestry Division and Transportation Department about impacts and required actions, Salas said, estimating that the analyses will take several months. 

The county's zoning commission then will hold public hearings to give people a chance to weigh in on the project, she said. 

"It's a long process," Salas said. "This is a very big project. There are a lot of things that are going to be considered along the way. That's my ultimate priority: If this were to move forward, it's done correctly." 

Full impacts unknown

A visitor driving to Cow Creek Ranch needs firm commitment, careful concentration and good tires while bouncing and shimmying for miles on rutted, hilly roads.

After going up and over a summit and navigating countless rocky bumps, you come to a clearing that, if not for hills denuded by modern logging and a few newer-styled homes, would be a land frozen in time, with rustic barns and a horse grazing in a field.

Two miles later, you roll into Santa Fe National Forest and the rushing waters of Cow Creek emerge, fully visible, from the trees shrouding its banks. Drive another 15 minutes, and you arrive at the ranch's log-hewn gate, a sweeping vista of green, wooded hills on the horizon. 

Having dozens of people staying for unknown lengths of time on land that extends into the forest raises questions among some neighbors. They wonder whether the rough forest roads would be paved to accommodate increased traffic, encouraging drivers to speed and drawing joy riders from outside the area.  

"I do think if that road was paved, there could be a bad accident," said Bernice Martinez Gentry, 55, an Albuquerque resident whose family owns about 50 acres along the creek. "Especially at the top where there's that big cliff area. That would be definitely a danger zone." 

Gentry and her husband built a cabin on their property a year ago, several miles downstream from the ranch. Her father was the same age — 54 — when he built his cabin by Cow Creek. 

Gentry said she was anxious about newcomers who aren't used to living on forestland, especially in dry conditions, boosting wildfire dangers. 

"As dry as it gets in Cow Creek, any spark can start a wildfire out there that can go out of control," Gentry said. "That would be a shame — like if it went down the canyon where all the houses are." 

She also is concerned about how a subdivision of this magnitude could disturb wildlife. 

"Just the whole disruption to the ecosystem when you're putting that many houses out there," Gentry said. "You're disrupting wildlife." 

Several landowners and a local environmental advocate echoed Gentry's concerns. 

Frank "Pancho" Adelo, who lives in Pecos and owns a local gas station and food service, said the development plan doesn't address wildlife impacts, nor does it prohibit short-term rentals that would create a constant stream of patrons coming and going. 

It's good that Peters has worked to restore the creek for fishing, but the subdivision will displace bears, elk, deer, owls and other animals, said Adelo, who's also president of the Upper Pecos Watershed Association. 

"It's super disappointing to see that ranch end up in the hands of a developer," Adelo said. "If the development goes through, it's going to change the character of that valley forever." 

In his email, Peters wrote he doesn't plan to pave the roads because he likes them rough. 

This development will be no different from other area ranches that were subdivided, such as Mountain View Guest Ranch that is now Pecos Canyon Estates, Peters argued. 

Peters didn't specifically address wildlife impacts but wrote that local residents have taught him about the ranch and the best way to maintain it. The ranch has operated as a business since the 1890s, including as a resort, and he will carry on the legacy, he wrote. 

"I am very respectful of the long history in this region and have greatly appreciated the support and input from people who have been involved with the property for decades," Peters wrote. 

Candi DePauw, 73, a Soledad, Calif., resident who owns 5 acres along Cow Creek, said she doesn't begrudge Peters for wanting to develop land he owns, but she questions the scale of it in that area. 

"We just want to make sure it just doesn't turn the whole place upside down, when the obvious pleasure of it is it's so pristine," DePauw said. 

Water and waste

Most who were interviewed said their biggest concern is the potential effect on water, whether septic waste that could seep into the stream or heightened groundwater use draining the aquifer.  

Richard Valencia, 73, who has lived year-round at his Cow Creek home for 50 years, said he worries septic pollution in the creek would be funneled into his acequia. 

Valencia pulls water from the ditch to water hay feed for his eight cattle and doesn't want it to be contaminated. The creek feeds other acequias in the area that people depend on, he said. 

"I don't care how good their sewage system is — eventually, it will get down to the creek," Valencia said. 

He said he's not opposed to a development of a reasonable size, but this would be too big with too much sewage. 

DePauw said the first phase will have 19 lots near the stream.

"If it's an open septic system with leach fields … it's hard for me to imagine if you're that close to the creek that you're not going to have an impact on the water," DePauw said. 

Gentry said a severe flood could upend leach fields and contaminate the creek. 

Also, the increased consumption that would occur at the ranch, even from the first phase, could drain the groundwater, Gentry said. 

"I think 15 or 20 [homes] would completely affect the aquifer," she said. "Even though we've gotten a lot of rain and it's been monsoon season, it's actually been in drought for quite a while." 

Peters wrote in his email the state Environment Department will approve every septic system. He also thinks the project will surpass every requirement because "our focus is preserving the environment." 

He also played down concerns about groundwater use. 

"The water consumption is very minor," Peters wrote. "This aquifer is different from that of the Pecos River; the consumption will be insignificant."

But Adelo said he's not convinced. 

"Their assertion that it's going to have no hydrological impact on Cow Creek — with 60 homes — is questionable at best," Adelo said. 

J. Bustamante, an Albuquerque resident who owns 300 acres in Cow Creek, said this project offers no benefit to the environment or to anyone downstream. 

"Let's be honest, it's insane," Bustamante said. "Building a community up there is absolutely ridiculous." 

(44) comments

Kiki Martinez

Why can't the Gerald Peters and Alan Webbers of the state just get it through their heads that the people of New Mexico (particularly Santa Fe and close surrounding areas) do not want more development? We do not appreciate the way rich people like Peters and Webber come and ruin our beautiful city, towns, and state. Leave things alone!!! To the comment here about our population growing 43% in 2020 due to immigration - now that Biden has no control (or conscience) on the border situation just imagine how much that has grown and will continue to grow. This is all change that native New Mexicans do not want. If people want so much growth and population crowding they should go back where they came from and leave us alone.

Carolyn DM

Hilarious!! The immigrants are not building huge developments in this city or state, so what exactly is your gripe with them?

Richard Reinders

They consume resources like water, medical , law enforcement, stimulus money, housing and I could go on. I have no problem with legal immigration, I am the product of a immigration family, but we don't even know who has come and what their intentions are.

Augustin de la Sierra

I think this article should have focused on the reality that county boards of commissioners and city councils have, as their principal raison d'être, development of land. Why? Because mostly because this increases revenue to cities and counties, pyramid scheme style. (Who cares about the grandchildren?) If development is not possible without re-zoning, then count on it, the county board or city council will amend the zoning, consistent with the power that county and city ordinances give them to do so.

Developer Gerald Peters is not breaking any law.

It's silly to suggest that 'the people' have any meaningful control of land development in situations like this.

Charlotte Rowe

Hopefully the zoning commission can prevent this. If the area is zoned in such a way that the density of development is restricted by law, then the developer should get short shrift from the commission when he complains that he paid so much money and now they ought to rezone for his personal financial benefit, even though existing residents object. I served on the zoning board for the entire Fairbanks North Star Borough (an area roughly 7450 square miles, and we were constantly being petitioned by developers who purchased land with the intention to subdivide, despite the laws on the books, thinking that they would be able to coerce the commission into permitting it. This never worked unless all the neighboring landowners were on board with it. Same thing when these guys would buy property adjacent to established mushing teams. They'd turn around and then whine to the planning commission that they couldn't develop nice, expensive estates because of all the adjacent dog noise and they wanted us to change the zoning. Sorry, dude, the dogs were there first, you knew you were in an area zoned for mushing and horse farms, and even if we DID change it, they'd be grandfathered in. We thought of ourselves as primarily operating a government regulatory agency for dog and pony shows (hee). They don't do their research, or they think they can strong-arm others. Alaskans, like New Mexicans, aren't that easy to bully.

Baji Milici

I am appalled at this idea. Can the people in this area apply for zoning laws to stop this horrendous thing. Yes, Santa Fe looks like a war zone with new apts going up, Construction trucks everywhere, and that's right, I who work here cannot afford those apts. Even with a reliable, full time job . I work for the Fed. Gov. Is this not the ultimate slap in the face to locals!!

John Lonergan

If you don't like it, why didn't you buy the ranch before Gerald Peters bought it?[ban]

Charlotte Rowe

You clearly don't understand how laws work.

DANIEL GOWE

65 homes over time, now think about that. What do you think it takes to excavate 65 home building sites/pads, access roads to each developed site, electricity lines dug, water lines dug, sewer lines dug, internet access, phone cell towers, propane trucks, utility workers checking meters, FedEx/UPS deliveries. This area will be impacted for years with dozers, graders, tractors, backhoes, semi trucks, service trucks and any thing else needed to acces this property. This will go on for years. The access road from Pecos to Cow Creek will have so much new traffic on it they will need to pave it too.

paul pacheco

This is an example of where the people who have a stake there will have to group together to oppose the development to the county commission; but remember “money talks!” And watch out, Peters has already befriended San Miguel County by them calling on state agencies to assist and who should have little or no business in this process; He (Peters) will have big dog lawyers who specialize in planning and land use so those opposed must know more about the law and plan their strategy to overwhelm the development of this huge amount of (65) homes (retaining big dog lawyers too.) Make sure they cross all T’s and dot all I’s, and you too! As for Peters, he’s a greedy bloodsucker!

Nicanor Hererra III

Why did the SFNM remove my comment about the Gorras Blancas?

Nicanor Hererra III

Reminds me of the stories of the Gorras Blancas in the 1890s in San Miguel County. I dont think they'd be very fond of Mr. Peters.

Andrew Lucero

[thumbup][thumbup][thumbup][thumbup][thumbup][thumbup][thumbup]

Jane Gowe

"Peters wrote, he doesn't plan to pave the roads because he likes them rough" As the road is now, it is most suitable for a high clearence vehicle. Now with all that new housing construction, the semi trucks hauling construction materials, contractors hauling building supplies, utility construction workers, ect., they will not be traveling on this kind of unapproved road PERIOD! When you start off with a little lie, I wonder what's in the big lie?

MP Paul

With severe drought and climate change in New Mexico, it’s high time our state, counties, and cities establish oversight on development supporting luxury vacation homes.

We’ve seen mass development in Santa Fe with really no impact on affordability. The error by Webber and the team he assemble called the Santa Fe Housing Action Coalition was using a simplistic strategy that by increasing housing supply it would lower prices. Unfortunately their strategy was way off the mark, as the problem is that the supply is no longer simply supporting local demand, but instead a national demand that our city’s recent development can’t satisfy. The result is that with all of the development we still have no affordable housing for people who live and work in our community and growing concerns on urban congestion and how our dwindling water supply will support the mass development/immigration into Santa Fe from outside of our state.

The coalition completely underestimated the demand for vacation homes and relocation to Santa Fe from outside New Mexico. The report doesn’t even really touch on vacation rentals, despite the fact that Santa Fe was listed as one of the hottest markets in the country at the time of the reports writing. The report also poorly addresses the impact of climate change and limited water resources on their increased development strategy. Our entire community is waking up to the negative impact of the coalition’s poor strategy.

The result is massive development in Santa Fe, still a lack of affordable housing for locals, a decline in quality of life with poor city services, and concerns on the sustainability of water to support the growth. Pecos needs to stop this proposed development and not allow their community to turn into the trashed out mess we see today in Santa Fe.

Denise Jimenez

[thumbup][thumbup]

Gail Larson

Yet another outrageous act of GREED by Gerald Peters. He has made millions upon millions of dollars exploiting Santa Fe and has now set his money-grubbing sights on the unspoiled beauty of Cow Creek. What's next from this menace? Will he buy the Plaza and erect a 100 story "Peters Tower" before he is satisfied?

Carolyn DM

And he thinks the the effect on fishing is people's biggest concern?!! LMAO!! Mr. Peters is just another greedy, narcissistic land grabber, for nobody's benefit but his own. He's a lot like the former squatter in the White House. Several years ago, he desperately wanted to buy property in Tesuque behind my friend's house that wasn't even for sale. He had his lawyers write them letters and he used to call them frequently trying to get them to sell it to him. The last time he called, the husband told him, "my beans are burning, I gotta go", and he hung up on him. Yeah, Jerry, you know exactly who I'm talking about and you probably also know that after they moved that house that was built by her father in 1939 and the several acres with it sold for rock bottom price!

Gail Odom

What does the land use plan and zoning allow in terms of subdividing? The article says nothing about this. If people want low density development, then plans and zoning are key to keeping things rural.

Richard Reinders

65 homes on 1200 acres is about as low density as you can get most subdivisions are 65 homes on 15 acres.

Carolyn DM

You've obviously completely missed the point. Nobody is claiming this is high-density housing.

David Martinez

Development???? With the New Mexico water shortage!!! That is an oxymoron!!!

New Mexico is in a 20 year draught…Mr. Peters….hello are you there???

You made a bad investment buying land that has limited water!!! Sell the land…for grazing or to keep its environmental beauty intact….. move or buy land in Louisiana…they have plenty of water there!!!

Remember there is limited water in NM. If I recall Elephant Butte is at 10%…..you want to develop and set this as a fishery area??? Hello….anyone in there Mr. Peters!!!

Daniel Werwath

At one time, the uber-wealthy used to buy amazing pieces of land like this for the greater good and conservation. But now it’s just more carving up of rural lands that used to belong to everyone, into smaller properties that working class folks will ever be able afford. The worst kind of sprawl. Sad to see the loss of that kind of philosophy and an already wealthy person using some of the most unique and special land in NM to make more $, rather than a better future. The irony is that we badly need housing in our cities, for locals. Too bad we don’t see the wealth pointed at that problem.

Janis Roller

This is happening everywhere. It is the natural consequence of over populating this country and the planet. I was born and raised in Palo Alto — a wonderful place to live in the 1950s and 60s. Because of the population density there, Palo Alto is unlivable now. Until people seriously address over population and it’s effect on quality of life and climate change, the quality of life everywhere is going to diminish.

Joseph Tafoya

In 2020 the United States population was 331 million people. The population grew by 1.2million people 43% of that growth was by immigration. Our death rate was 10 per 1000 people higher than our average of 8.3 per 1000 people since 2000. The bottom line from 1980 to 2020 the United States population has grown by approximately 101.9 million people. That's approximately 2.5 million per year. That's not exactly an explosion of the United States population. I believe many people are trying to escape from an environment that they helped to create to one that is relatively ripe for invasion. Without consideration for the people that live in the new environment, the time will come that the newcomers will change it.

Philip Taccetta

[thumbup]

D. Stark

[thumbup][thumbup]

Baji Milici

Thank you for acknowledging the need to lower human population. Remember in th 1970s, Zero population growth efforts were in place. Somehow a specific religion thinks it's just great to keep having babies, and not use birth control. Get modern please. We don't need to have a squad if kids to run the farms anymore. We need a squad of lawyers and environmentally sound citizens to STOP overpopulation.

Richard Reinders

The US population is stagnant it is the immigration population that is exploding with no border controls, but the Americas population is nothing compared to Asia.

Baji Milici

Also, yes, please fight to keep this. Place pristine.

And hand out condoms free at all gas stations, local mom and pop stores, and yes, churches! I am sooooo tired of backwards thinking and antiquated ideas!

Philip Taccetta

I still don’t know how the overpopulation problem got swept under the rug?

My wife and I believed the climate scientists first time around - I’ve been off grid for 40 years and we replaced ourselves - period. Two children.

Joseph Tafoya

Looks like the “Milagro Beanfield War” is about to be played out in real life, again. For those that don't remember or know, the “Milagro Beanfield War” was a movie adaptation from a book written by John Nichols and directed by Robert Redford, and was filmed in Truchas NM. Here a rich developer moves in to disrupt a communities way of life by using his wealth and influence to develop forest land.

Charlotte Rowe

Excellent movie, by the way.

Patrick Brockwell

“Simply put, my intentions at Cow Creek Ranch are very focused on land and water stewardship,” Peters wrote. Well Mr. Peters, you could put the land in a Conservancy Trust if you are truly interested in land and water stewardship. Seems like the intention of development is profit. Give the double-talk a rest and let the land be as it is and has been.

Charlotte Rowe

I was just thinking he could sell it or just deed it over to the Nature Conservancy and take the deduction. Surely monsters like him have many ways to avoid ever expending any real money on anything, and getting rebates and refunds all the while. This kind of disgusting greed is really a sickness. He needs psychiatric help.

Charles W Rodriguez

When I first moved to Pecos in 1984, I was charmed by the life in this northern New Mexico village. Since then, it has become a bustling suburb of Santa Fe. Now, Gerald Peters wants to bring the Santa Fe sprawl to the area? Peters has been responsible for an unrestrained development of Santa Fe, despite obvious water shortages. This is, precisely, the kind of careless development New Mexico doesn't need.

Augustin de la Sierra

“Simply put, my intentions at Cow Creek Ranch are very focused on land and water stewardship,” Peters wrote. “The development does not threaten the quality of lifestyle or the environment that currently exists. Fishing is not the threat it is being worked up to be.”

Seriously?

If a developer's lips are moving, he is lying.

Richard Reinders

Other projects have been done like this with cluster housing leaving large open space which had minimal impact to there area. The septic systems like sludge hammer leave the water coming from the septic systems clean. I am sure it will be more attractive than the subdivision at Iron Gate with a lot more controls.

Joe Jones

The "subdivision at Iron Gate" you speak of is Pecos Canyon Estates. Peters' comment that his development was "no different than Pecos Canyon Estates" made me chuckle. You are correct, there are no architectural controls or rules, and no HOA. Most properties are 2 acres or less, and the majority of cabins are quite modest. Yet there has not been a huge amount of over development, if any. Most properties have been in the same families for generations. It's one of the most beautiful areas in the Pecos Canyon. Just about perfect in my opinion.

Patrick Brockwell

"Sludge hammer" Richard you are a wordsmith!

Richard Reinders

Sludge Hammer is a brand name for a septic system add on to purify the water. It adds a bacteria at the same time it aerates the water from the septic tank before being discharged.

Richard Reinders

https://sludgehammer.net/

J.J. Glanton

What good has Gerald Peters ever done for anyone or anything in New Mexico aside from himself?

RandyandChris Burke

Exactly. Gerald Peters already ruined downtown Santa Fe, I cringe to think what he could do to lovely and unspoiled Cow Creek.

Welcome to the discussion.

Thank you for joining the conversation on Santafenewmexican.com. Please familiarize yourself with the community guidelines. Avoid personal attacks: Lively, vigorous conversation is welcomed and encouraged, insults, name-calling and other personal attacks are not. No commercial peddling: Promotions of commercial goods and services are inappropriate to the purposes of this forum and can be removed. Respect copyrights: Post citations to sources appropriate to support your arguments, but refrain from posting entire copyrighted pieces. Be yourself: Accounts suspected of using fake identities can be removed from the forum.