New Mexico Village Fights Demolition of Historic Church

Posted on March 2, 2010

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It’s not often that I have the opportunity to bring you news from my neck of the woods, but the time has come.  Just up the road from town is a little town called Questa, and the local residents are fighting to preserve one of the oldest buildings in town, a 175-year-old church, now slated for demolition.

On February 9, the Village passed a historic preservation ordinance which allows the town council to designate any areas, buildings, property or public space within a building as historic and therefore not eligible for demolition.  The ordinance provides that if it prevents demolition of a historic structure, it will “work closely with the owner to find an appropriate use for the property, to help fund a buyer or to obtain funding for rehabilitation.”

On February 22, the Village announced that on March 1 they would consider whether the San Antonio de Padua church falls under the new historic preservation ordinance, and notified the Archdiocese of Santa Fe, who wants the building demolished.

On March 1, the meeting went on as scheduled, but the Archdiocese elected not to attend. The council unanimously voted to designate the church as a historic structure worthy of preservation.

As it turns out, the Town of Taos Planning Department issued the Archdiocese the demolition permit earlier in the day on March 1.  The Archdiocese attorney faxed a letter objecting to the 10-day notice of the meeting and stating that the designation would not stop the demolition.

The ordinance provides for an appeal process through the Eighth Judicial District Court, presumably one that will be utilized immediately.

Cities, towns, counties and other local governments may use zoning and ordinances to restrict the demolition of individual historic buildings.  There are, of course, requirements and restrictions on how those ordinances may be structured, so as to minimize the interference with property rights.

If your local community is trying to prevent the demolition of a historic structure, the National Trust for Historic Preservation has put up an excellent document, “Managing Teardowns: Preserving Community Character and Livability” (3mb .pdf) which outlines tools (regulatory, voluntary, and incentive-based) to help preserve the past.  The document is geared toward preventing teardowns of historic homes, but the tools can be used in a variety of ways.

Read the Taos News Article: Unanimous council preserves Questa church as Archdiocese files demolition permit.

If you have a better photo of the San Antonio de Padua church in Questa, New Mexico, please email me at kimberly ~at~ culturalpropertylaw.net.

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