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Pathways Shelter Wins Permit

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Pathways Shelter permit hearing Montoya

Roger Montoya walks to the podium in the packed Eagle Cafe at Northern New Mexico College to present on behalf of the New Mexico Coalition to End Homelessness, which acts as the fiscal agent for Española Pathways Shelter.

Española Pathways Shelter overcame a major barrier to becoming the first homeless shelter in the city’s history Sept. 12, with the successful acquisition of a special use permit to operate a shelter at a prospective site on Calle Delgado on the West Side, but organizers say they are already pivoting to a more suitable location after an internal Sept. 16 vote.

Roger Montoya, a main organizer for the Pathways effort, said they will file another special use permit application Friday for a yet-unspecified site, which he said is in a better location with more room to expand.

The Española Planning and Zoning Commission’s decision to grant the permit last week sets an optimistic precedent for future applications, and the shift in plans will likely please some of the neighboring landowners who spoke against the proposed location on Calle Delgado.

The Commission unanimously granted the permit to operate in an urban residential zone with hefty conditions after a contentious hearing that ran until nearly midnight. Commission Chair Erle Wright was not present and Vice Chair Eric Martinez led the meeting.

Planning and Land Use Department staff recommended the Commission approve the permit with conditions including requirements for off-street parking, additional lighting, a three-year expiration date, and a comprehensive security plan including partnerships with local law enforcement, to be reviewed and approved by the Española Police Department.

In his motion to approve the permit, Commissioner Ed Hunter said that the Rio Arriba County Sheriff’s Office and New Mexico State Police should also approve the security plan and that organizers should explore plans to expand to a larger, more suitable facility. He also shortened the length of the permit to two years and included a possibility for the permit to come back before the Commission for review before the permit expires.

Regardless of location, organizers plan to include intensive case management with goal setting as part of their program and partner with local medical and addiction recovery services. The shelter’s proposed rules bar weapons, drugs and alcohol with plans for hand-offs to law enforcement when necessary if a resident is ejected.

Jose Sandoval, an attorney who lives and works in a neighboring property and the primary opponent of the shelter at the Calle Delgado site, took an appeal form after the hearing. He did not respond to verbal requests for comment. Española Planning and Land Use Director Richard Hubler said Tuesday that no appeal had been filed.

An appeal of the Commission’s decision must be filed within 15 days and would go before the Española City Council, whose decision could be appealed to the First Judicial District Court. An appeal is based solely on the record of the case and city code states a decision should be upheld unless it was not in accordance with city plans, policies and ordinances, the facts on which it was based are not supported by the record, or the decision was “arbitrary, capricious, or a manifest abuse of discretion.”

If so, the Council could reverse or modify the Commission’s decision.

The Council passed a resolution in August committing to cooperate with the shelter effort, but the resolution established no specific obligations or intentions.

While the Delgado property is not wholly off the table if other plans fail, fiscal issues at the site still represent a significant hurdle. Shelter organizers do not own the property. Montoya said their hope for the Calle Delgado property was that the city could purchase the site and lease it to Pathways.

“The original design of this was to work in tandem with the city government,” he said.

Sandoval erected a large sign in front of the proposed shelter site months ago reading, “No! To Drug Addict Shelter Here.” When reminded at the Commission meeting that he was under oath in a quasi-judicial hearing and asked if his recent purchase of a building abutting the original proposed site was intended to block the project, he claimed it was not.

“No, but I hope it does,” he said.

Montoya said organizers openly wanted to buy the abutting property for parking and a private entrance, as well as space for a job training program.

The New Mexico Coalition to End Homelessness is Pathways’ fiscal agent. New Mexico House Rep. Joseph Sanchez, D-Alcalde, secured $225,000 for the shelter in state funding this spring. Montoya said this year’s surplus of junior appropriation funds left the $225,000 clogged with state fiscal agencies until this week, and they could now start looking for staff.

If organizers file the application this week as planned, the special use permit hearing for a new site will likely be set for the Oct. 10 Commission meeting.

Montoya said next week organizers plan to apply with the state to formalize Pathways as a nonprofit and launch a website and GoFundMe donation page.

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