Phaedra Haywood | The New Mexican
Posted: Tuesday, July 12, 2011 – 7/13
The Santa Fe County Commission voted 3 to 2 on Tuesday to deny an application from a religious group seeking to build a temple in the Arroyo Hondo area.
Neighbors in the area had fiercely opposed the application from the O Centro Espírita Beneficente União do Vegetal (commonly referred to as UDV), a Christian-based religion that uses a hallucinogenic tea made from two Amazonian plants at its sacrament.
In the two years that the project has been under review, neighbors have cited traffic and water issues as reasons for opposition.
Most of all, they said, the temple — which would have hosted services that lasted into the wee hours of the morning — was not compatible with the neighborhood’s character.
Commissioner Robert Anaya said he was opposing the project for that reason. Commissioner Kathleen Holian, who also voted against it, said, “This is in my district, and I will just simply say I cannot support this development.” Joining them in opposition was Daniel Mayfield.
Commissioners Liz Stefanics and Virginia Vigil supported the church.
The decision was made in spite of the county staff’s recommendation that the project be approved because it met county code. A consultant hired by the county also testified that water experts who spoke on behalf of the opposition had misrepresented some facts.
The consultant, Jay Lazurus of Glorieta Geo-Science, said the application met code, that the UDV had proven sufficient water availability and that it was unlikely the use of the tea would have any impact on the groundwater.
Stefanics wondered about the grounds for denying an application under those circumstances before casting her vote. “If they are meeting code requirements, do we have a valid reason to deny?” she asked.
The hearing started last month and recessed after six hours, then reconvened Tuesday.
Opponents of the project — who had to be gaveled into silence by Vigil several times — greeted the decision with applause and joyful hugs.
Several members of the UDV — including Jeffrey Bronfman, who owned the land where the temple would have been built — had tears in their eyes after the vote.
The UDV attorney didn’t know yet whether the group would appeal.
Contact Phaedra Haywood at 986-3068 or firstname.lastname@example.org.