Some residents of the Eldorado subdivision, southeast of Santa Fe, remember longtime rancher, farmer and developer Joe Miller for his stubborn vision for the community — one that clashed with theirs.
Miller’s family and others say there is much more to recall in the self-made man, who saw the beauty and potential of Eldorado and its people.
Miller died Jan. 4 at age 90 at his ranch in Lamy.
He never retired.
His daughter Kathy Miller said he suffered a broken pelvis during a fall in 2020 and struggled with blood clots in his brain, but those conditions never stopped him from putting in a day’s work, even in a wheelchair.
“He was out of the house by 8 o’clock,” Kathy Miller said.
Joe Miller was known for his nearly 30-year battle to develop hundreds of acres between Lamy and Old Las Vegas Highway he had purchased in the 1980s. The proposed project was involved in a series of lawsuits and faced a 13-year water-use moratorium.
His biggest dream, his daughter said, was a mixed-use development on U.S. 285 at the entrance to the Eldorado subdivision called Cimarron Village. Plans for the project combined commercial and residential land, and designs included solar panels and rainwater harvesting, along with parks and trails.
Opponents pushed against the idea, saying its “big-box stores” would compete with local businesses.
That was the side of her father the public saw, Kathy Miller said. She saw much more.
“He loved to travel,” she said. “I would take him on trips all the time to Utah, Wyoming, and he’d want to keep going. He was very devoted to his God, to his family. He went to St. Anne [Parish in Santa Fe], a very devout Catholic.
“He liked to listen to Rush Limbaugh. He was very conservative. He loved his ranch. He would just take off to his ranch.”
Destiny Allison, co-owner of La Tienda retail center in Eldorado, called Miller a generous man. She credited him with helping her buy a house she had rented from him as she struggled to raise her children as a single mom going through a messy divorce. He even arranged a mortgage broker for her, she said, though she had not asked for help.
The generosity Miller showed to neighbors and community members sometimes could get lost in his legal wrangling, Allison said.
She spoke of his help in purchasing the home.
“He did it for no reason at all,” Allison said. “He was just my landlord. I didn’t know him beyond paying him rent every month. He did something astounding and gifted me significant amount of equity in the house.
“Joe did that out of the goodness of his heart,” she said. “He just made it happen.”
But Allison noted his actions sometimes would draw the ire of the community. She cited the development of a Dollar General store, underway on land set for Cimarron Village. Miller was well aware people didn’t want the store near Eldorado, she said.
“He brought that on himself, and there is fury about that,” Allison said.
“Ultimately,” she added, “I believe Joe was a good guy and I am sorry to see him go.”
Ron VanAmberg, Miller’s longtime attorney, called him a “salt of the earth-type of person” who enjoyed the simple things in life but also would lend a helping hand to neighbors and community members.
“He built his own house and he built houses for others,” VanAmberg said. “He was one of the smartest and most diligent guys I ever met. He knew the Santa Fe County codes better than everybody.”
Miller was born Aug. 22, 1930, in Canton, Ohio, and married his wife, Alma, in 1955. He was in the U.S. Army as a supply sergeant for four years during the 1950s, and spent some time in El Paso.
Kathy Miller, 62, recalled taking trips to Santa Fe as a child and her father setting a plan in motion to move his family west — which he did in 1972.
He began buying land around Eldorado in 1982, she said, and developed his plan for Cimarron Village in 1994. The project stalled a couple of years later, when the Santa Fe County Commission placed a moratorium on developments due to water issues. The moratorium wasn’t lifted until 2007, despite Joe Miller’s lawsuits.
Miller wrangled with community members over the construction of a gas station and land leases for manufactured homes. Danny Martinez, a real estate developer who was a longtime family friend, said those disputes overshadowed other things Miller did, such as donating water wells to the Eldorado Area Water and Sanitation District, giving a tenant extra time to pay rent or helping pave the way for a traffic light at the subdivision’s entrance.
Miller went out of his way to accommodate the community’s requests, Martinez said.
Vanessa Miller said her grandfather didn’t want to hear the contentious rancor during some planning meetings on his projects, so he occasionally pulled out his hearing aids.
Still, he never stopped being his affable self, she said.
“He would talk to anybody,” Vanessa Miller said.
Kathy Miller couldn’t help but note a hint of irony that her father died the same week of the groundbreaking for the Dollar General store. It will be the first structure built on Cimarron Village, and she said he would have loved to have been there to see it.
The family intends to continue selling land, with hopes of accomplishing her dad’s vision.
“He just loved the open spaces, the sunshine here,” Kathy Miller said. “He just loved it.”