By Ellen Miller-Goins, News Director
A setback variance request that would have allowed construction of a Family Dollar Store in Angel Fire was removed from the agenda but it still dominated the Angel Fire Village Council meeting Tuesday (Oct. 20) — and raised a larger discussion on the character and future zoning for the village.
Mayor Pro Tem Chuck Howe asked council to remove the 105-foot setback variance agenda line item because McQuarrie Revocable Trust, the entity that was selling property to Triple C Development, asked to have their request withdrawn with the understanding that they would still have the right to refile.
A number of people in the audience had signed up for the public comments that precede council discussion and Mayor Barbara Cottam encouraged them to have their say.
Roger Lowe, co-founder of Lowe’s grocery stores, including Lowe’s Valley Market said a Family Dollar would negatively impact not only his business, but also the Angel Fire Community. Referencing what he called “economic displacement,” Lowe said, “A Family Dollar store will suck the life out of this community.”
Local resident and business owner Carl Nelson expressed his belief that a Family Dollar would only bring “low-level, low-skill jobs” and “cannibalize” gross receipts taxes from “other businesses in Angel Fire.”
Barry Lindsey, another local and business owner cautioned against any variance that would alter the current 45-foot maximum setback of the Mountain View Overlay District that extends from Centro Plaza to the blinking light. “A lot of time went into the Overlay District,” Lindsey said.
Others — including Lisa Sutton, Alexandra Sternhagen (speaking both for herself and reading a letter from Ginger Lagasse), and Marcia and Guy Wood — spoke out against Family Dollar because it would have a negative impact on Angel Fire’s character.
Sutton urged council to “hold true to the vision” as that impacts visitors’ first impressions as they drive into Angel Fire.
Reading from Lagasse’s letter, Sternhagen said, “I believe we desire to build toward a Sedona-style of town rather than an Española.”
Marcia Wood opined, “Our tourists come to Angel Fire for it’s beauty and unique shops,” then questioned the wisdom of building a Dollar Store in a community with an above-average annual income. “Those who believe a Dollar Store would be a shot in the arm have not done their homework.,” Wood said.
Guy Wood also cautioned against a variance. “What a precedence that would set. If there’s a reason for the overlay, let’s go back and look at it.”
Speaking on behalf of the McQuarrie Revocable Trust, Scott McQuary, whose parents moved to Angel Fire in the early ’70s, said, “government should not be in the position of choosing winners and losers. That should be left to the marketplace.… The welfare of all the residents of this village needs to be taken into account.”
Noting that parents currently must drive to Taos to buy school supplies, McQuarrie said, “Lowe’s, for example, is not a general merchandise business.”
McQuarrie concluded that it would unfair to require those who work in Angel Fire to drive to Taos for all their shopping.
Stan Samuels, owner of North Country Real Estate and other Angel Fire businesses, told council he had a petition with about 100 signatures from citizens who support Family Dollar.
Another longtime resident, Don Borgeson, who works at Monte Verde Realty, said he wanted to talk about the Overlay District, not Family Dollar. Referencing narrow “panhandle lots,” he said, “There are some problems with the Overlay District we did not anticipate. We, as a community, need to figure out how to encourage business in this community.”
The narrow lot was one reason for the variance request. In a letter to council, Trey Williams of Triple C Development and Jonathan Burkhardt of Burkhardt Engineering, noted, “the site is too narrow” for semi trucks to make deliveries then get back out safely. Their letter also noted “Customers want to park as close to the building as possible.”
A few commenters at Tuesday’s meeting stated there were other lots along Mountain View Boulevard/Highway 434 that would not require a setback variance.
Should village setbacks be changed?
The Mountain View Overlay District came to the fore later in the meeting during the first reading and public hearing for amendments to title Nine of the Village Code. Item 9-11-C-4 would have changed the current 45-foot maximum setback to 100 feet. With Village Attorney Joe Canepa cautioning against making this another discussion about Family Dollar, another discussion about setbacks ensued.
Christine Breault, administrative assistant for Planning and Zoning, told council part of the motivation for the current setback was “to avoid strip malls” in Angel Fire.
Councilor Christy Germscheid, acknowledging Canepa’s caution, said while she appreciated the comments for members of the community, “Whether or not they want a Family Dollar is not the issue, the issue is the Overlay District.”
Mike Stille, chairman of the Planning and Zoning Commission recommended council send the change back to the commission.
Council voted to send the amendment back to Planning and Zoning.