The Albuquerque City Council voted 5-4 Monday night to award city landmark status to El Vado Motel, giving it some protection against being torn down to make way for luxury townhouses. The vote followed more than two hours of sometimes-disjointed discussions that Councilor Don Harris labeled “a train wreck.”
The city landmark vote came to the council again after an appeals court ruled the Landmarks and Urban Conservation Commission filed to consider economic viability reports during the first designation. El Vado was given city landmark status shortly after owner Richard L. Gonzales purchased it in October 2005.
A lot of strange stuff occurred during the meeting Monday. I’ll try to summarize them briefly:
– The council clearly had grown impatient about the lack of a settlement concerning El Vado and Gonzales after about two years of inactivity. Some councilors pointed fingers at the city attorney’s office for the lack of progress. But, in fairness, Gonzales also held the property in limbo much of that time because of appeals and similar finagling.
– At one point, the council moved to defer action on the city landmark application for two weeks so they could try to reach a settlement. However, one official pointed out that a demolition application on El Vado was slated to be decided on Jan. 15 and that a judge could grant it because the council had taken no action on the city landmark proposal. The deferral motion failed.
– After hearing about how El Vado Motel was no longer an economically feasible business, Councilor Michael Cadigan suggested that the motel’s shutdown shortly after Gonzales purchased it — and two years of no maintenance — led to its declining value. “What we have here is demolition by neglect,” Cadigan said.
– Because of a recently passed bond issue, the city has about about $700,000 available for a buyout of the property.
– Gonzales’ attorney asked for the council to turn down the landmarks designation and, in return, Gonzales pledged he would not tear down El Vado Motel for 60 days in an effort to reach a compromise. Councilors seemed reluctant to give Gonzales that much of an advantage.
– Councilor Isaac Benton discussed one proposal floated in 2005 in which parts of El Vado would be demolished, but leave standing the most visible parts facing Central Avenue and New York Avenue. But City Planner Ed Boles said if that occurred, “I guarantee” El Vado would be removed from the National Register of Historic Places.
– Gonzales, after making a fool of himself at a recent LUCC meeting, wisely let his attorney do most of the talking Monday. I think the attorney’s strategy was the cloud the councilors’ minds with dubious talk about property rights and accusations that the city hadn’t negotiated in good faith. The gameplan nearly worked.
– I found out less than 24 hours before the meeting that the El Vado item would be a quasi-judicial hearing that didn’t allow public comment, nor did it allow anyone to even contact the councilors by letters or e-mail. Does that strike anyone as being wholly unconstitutional?
In conclusion: El Vado is safe for now, but it will be in jeopardy again if the council doesn’t aggressively pursue a settlement. I think Gonzales’ attorney is trying to wear down the city so his client will eventually get his way. Here’s hoping the city puts that potential buyout money to use quickly.
That’s all I have for now from watching the proceedings on a live Internet feed from 700 miles away. If you attended the meeting, feel free to chime in with your observations.