After a five-hour meeting, the Santa Fe County Planning Commission late Thursday recommended denial of a controversial proposal for a Pilot Flying J truck stop near Interstate 25 and N.M. 14.
While a number of residents in the area have vehemently objected to the project, saying it would despoil the southern-most approach to Santa Fe, the issue before the advisory panel was whether a truck stop is an allowable use in what is designated as the Santa Fe Community College District.
The seven-member commission determined it was not, voting unanimously to recommend that the Santa Fe County Commission reject the proposed three-phase conceptual plan.
Commission member Frank Katz, a former Santa Fe city attorney, said the applicants cited language in the county code that might allow what he considers “the least attractive aspects” of what is allowed in the district in an effort to justify a truck stop as an allowable use.
“But that language doesn’t justify the location of a trafficky, ugly, smelly, noisy truck stop that is not an allowed use,” he said. “The staff has directed us to decide — quote — whether or not the use of a truck stop should be recognized as a conditional use. I find that a truck stop cannot be reasonably construed to be a conditional use. Within the [Community College District], the plan can’t be approved as submitted.”
Katz said a hearing officer, attorney Nancy Long, was “legally dead wrong” in her finding that the proposal complies with the county code.
Opponents of the project expressed relief at the commission’s recommendation.
“Oh my God,” Lisa Burns, president of the Santa Fe Gateway Alliance, a group of neighbors and community members who oppose the proposed truck stop, said after the vote. “I am so excited. We have worked so tirelessly.”
Thursday’s meeting drew more than 250 people. The county held the meeting at the gymnasium at Santa Fe High School to accommodate a large crowd, though the crowd thinned out as the night wore on, not only because of the time but because the bleachers in the gym proved too uncomfortable for some to bear.
The commission’s recommendation is the latest twist in a monthslong battle over whether to permit a truck stop and travel center on a 26-acre parcel off the interstate just south of Santa Fe city limits.
But the fight is not over.
Burns said the conceptual plan application will now head to the County Commission.
“We’re hoping that they [the applicants] are going to feel like it’s just too much trouble and be done because it’s just an uphill battle for them,” she said.
Local attorney Karl Sommer, who represents the applicants, declined to comment after the vote.
But during the meeting, he said there was “no doubt” the truck stop and related uses are allowed under the county’s land development code.
“Our application complies completely and fully or exceeds every standard that applies to a conceptual plan,” Sommer said. “We’re going to ask for your approval because we think, from a legal standpoint, there is no justifiable reason to deny this. The application should be approved.”
The proposal calls for a truck stop, gas station, convenience store and three fast-food restaurants, including one with a drive-thru, in the first phase. The second phase calls for two hotels, each with 100 rooms. The third phase would include a sit-down restaurant, retail shops, warehouse and light industry.
Ross Shaver, a Pilot Flying J project manager, told the commission he was “fully confident” the location was safe.
“I’ve had five public hearings, not including the hearing officer or this. We have heard the same concerns over and over,” Shaver said. “We have gone above and beyond and spent tens of thousands of extra dollars to address these concerns. This is engineering analysis backed up by fact and data.”
More than three dozen people spoke against the request. Only one person spoke in favor of the proposal.
Stephen Linam, who lives in Rancho Viejo, bemoaned “overheated rhetoric and fear mongering” from opponents. He said the reality is that the property in question is some distance from any housing and “in an area of commercial and industrial buildings that might be found anywhere and realistically not fit for any economic use other than the proposed plan.”
“It is unfair and unreasonable to deny a property owner the ability to use their property for a legal purpose because of arguments that mostly boil down to, ‘We don’t like it,’ ” he said. “Our decision-making processes about private property must protect the individual from the tyranny of the majority.”
Contact Daniel J. Chacón at 505-986-3089 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @danieljchacon.