Santa Fe County commissioners emerged from a closed-door session Tuesday night and approved a proposed Dollar General store near Eldorado, a project that many area residents bitterly oppose.
Commissioners voted 4-1 to greenlight the project, which has been stalled since last year after the Planning Commission overturned the land-use administrator’s approval of a Texas general contractor’s application to build the store on U.S. 285.
Pedigo Construction challenged the Planning Commission’s ruling, putting the matter before the board.
A couple of commissioners said they were voting “yes” reluctantly but felt they had no choice because Dollar General is a permitted business use.
“I do not believe that a dollar store is an appropriate building for that place, but … you have the right to exercise your free will and your belief in where you shop,” Commissioner Anna Hansen said. “If nobody shops there, it’s likely that store will not survive.”
Commissioner Ed Moreno, who voted “no,” said the Planning Commission was within its authority to override the land-use official and deny the project.
“My constituents have spoken loud and clear,” Moreno said. “Nationally, the stores are increasingly targets of crime.”
The county land-use administrator determined a 9,100-square-foot store on a 2.5-acre site met codes for a mixed-use development called Cimarron Village.
But a neighbor filed an appeal with the Planning Commission, which also received a petition with 1,900 signatures from opponents.
It was part of the fierce opposition that the proposed Dollar General store has generated among many Eldorado residents.
The board’s decision Tuesday was made with no testimony from the public and after an hourlong discussion behind closed doors.
The board also went into executive session in May to deliberate about the Dollar General case. That time, the commissioners decided to continue discussing the matter.
Although the county attorney insists closed sessions are allowed in this case because commissioners were discussing “adjudicatory matters,” the leader of an open government group says she’s not so sure.
“I am not convinced that this appeal to the full county board was from an administrative adjudicatory proceeding,” said Susan Boe, president of the New Mexico Foundation for Open Government.
Boe questioned whether the Planning Commission hearing was really “trial-like,” as outlined in the statute.
“Were witnesses sworn in? Was there a presiding hearing officer?” Boe asked.
County Attorney Gregory Shaffer said the commission met all standards of the state’s Open Meetings Act when it went into closed sessions.
And as required by law, the commission made the final order approving the general contractor’s appeal in an open meeting, Shaffer said.