By Kiera Hay / Journal North Reporter on Thu, Jun 16, 2011
Scientists, attorneys, dueling hydrologists. They all came out Tuesday to speak out on a controversial application to build a religious temple in Arroyo Hondo.
After more than six hours of back and forth, the Santa Fe County Commission tabled the matter just before midnight. Commissioners agreed to take it up again July 12.
“The UDV is something that is good. It is something that is positive. And I ask you to please approve this project so we can build a code-compliant and humble structure and continue to practice our religion,” Taylor Selby, a UDV member, pleaded.
Centro Espirita Beneficente Uniao Do Vegetal (UDV) is a Christian-based religion that uses hoasca tea, made of hallucinogenic plant extracts, as a sacrament. Local members are seeking master plan and preliminary development plan approval to build a 4,660-square-foot temple with a 540-square-foot covered portal, a yurt, a utility room and a storage building on a 2.52-acre property at the intersection of Arroyo Hondo and Brass Horse roads.
The temple would host services two Saturdays each month, from 8 p.m. to midnight, as well as two other services per month.
Many Arroyo Hondo residents object to the group’s plans. Past arguments have included that members might leave services while still under the influence of hoasca, potentially making them reckless drivers, and that the use of hoasca could contaminate the area’s water supply.
But opponents largely took a different tack on Tuesday.
Among their primary claims were that UDV’s application underestimates potential water use and availability; its wastewater system is undersized and could potentially leak contaminants; and the temple is fundamentally incompatible with the surrounding “long-established and rural residential neighborhood.”
“Their use is from 8 p.m. to possibly 4 a.m. That is entirely incompatible with anything in this district,” attorney Karl Sommer said. “They’re going to go home at all hours in the morning and they’re going to wake people up. That alone is enough to deny this application.”
UDV representatives maintained throughout the meeting that their application is in compliance with land use code. They said members are family-oriented and safety-conscious and noted the group met in a yurt at the same location for over a decade with no complaints or problems.
Jeffrey Bronfman, a UDV leader who owns the land the group hopes to build on, said much of the discussion has been focused on inflaming fears.
“It’s my understanding, if I wished to put up a building exactly like the one we are proposing but as a residence, the county would not deny me,” he said. It illustrated that “the issue is people have a problem with what we plan to do in the building.”
Opponents insisted that wasn’t the case.
“We are not concerned with what they’re doing on the property. We are concerned about the prospect of 100 cars and people leaving in the middle of the night,” one neighborhood resident said.
A hydrologist hired by opponents spent over an hour trying to disprove the water estimates provided by UDV, offering everything from a re-evaluation of the tract’s geology to questioning whether UDV’s water use properly accounted for the potential vomiting that can sometimes occur when members drink tea.
The UDV had its own hydrologist to back up the church’s water claims.
Both sides also brought in scientists who provided differing opinions on the safety of hoasca and its byproducts.
Steven Barker, a professor at Louisiana State University who spoke on behalf of UDV, told an attorney for the Arroyo Hondo residents that his “desperation” was “offensive.”
County staff is recommending the project be approved.