Rearview: Snowstorms descend, Couse pasture and 2 women win town council seats

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10 years ago - 'Storms take toll on Taos'

By Taos News staff; Feb. 7-13, 2008

Back-to-back storms that moved through the Taos area during early February 2008 did their worst. Crews had to work so many hours that funds started running out. People were stuck in their homes. And dozens of major roads were completely closed. "Disaster" and "emergency" were on the tips of many people's frozen tongues.

All in all, many parts of Taos County received as much as 2 feet of snow in the three-day storm. The windy places west of the Río Grande Gorge had drifts 7 feet high or more.

The "worst-hit" areas were small communities on the outskirts of Taos County, places like Llano de San Juan to the south, Tres Piedras to the west and Ventero to the north.

Drivers couldn't take important highways through Northern New Mexico due to the storm.

"At various times, all state highways to the west and north were closed," read one story by Andy Dennison. U.S. 64 between Tres Piedras and Tierra Amarilla had already been closed most of the winter, but the February storm forced even snowmobiles back home.

State Road 522 was largely impassible from Cerro to the Colorado state line as was U.S. 285. "Successive snowfall forced state and local crews to go over the same territory a number of times -- extending the physical limitations of drivers and managers."

In Tres Piedras, the snow was so bad stranded resident John Randall finally called into a radio station to ask for help. Randall and another person were stuck in his cabin with no heat, water, food, electricity or working vehicle.

"The snow was so impossible to navigate by vehicle, we had to clear it with heavy machinery first," one sheriff's sergeant told reporter Chandra Johnson. The response took cooperation from a number of agencies and finally the two trapped residents were taken to Holy Cross Hospital.

Another rescue operation was called in for a resident in Tres Piedras and still another rescue operation in the same neighborhood was called off after two backcountry skiers reported missing called to say they had simply abandoned their car to walk to a friend's house.

Taos County didn't have the hardest time from the repeated storms. Chama got 4 feet of snow, and then-Governor Bill Richardson declared Río Arriba County an official disaster area.

You know who didn't mind the snow? All the kids who got two days off of school and the 1,500 skiers on the mountain that week.

25 years ago - 'Development proposal near downtown sparks neighbors' ire'

By Mike Stauffer; Feb. 11, 1993

Barely more than a month into 1993, Taos seemed to have chosen its high-profile planning debacle of the year: the Couse Pasture.

The pasture, part of the estate of the long-dead artist Irving Couse (the founder of the Taos Society of Artists), is the 19-acre patch of nature between Los Pandos Road and Quesnel Street, hemmed in by commercial spaces along Paseo del Pueblo Sur and homes to the east.

That year, a developer brought a proposal called Campo Sabino to the planning and zoning commission. The idea called for "a retail plaza with shops, galleries and restaurants, a 60-room hotel and sites for a restaurant, bank, retail store and residential sites. The first phase also would include 280 parking spaces, public restrooms and a pedestrian walkway, connecting the development to Kit Carson Road."

You can imagine how that went over.

Residents immediately surrounding the proposed development worried such a big development in the "big green belt" of the pasture would erode the buffer between the commercial activity of Taos and the relatively quiet (and pricey) neighborhoods on the other side.

"What's the impact?" they asked.

When it came up at a Feb. 3 meeting, then-town engineer Alex Abeyta admitted the town hadn't had the time to review the long-term "ramifications" of the project. So the planning commission stalled, kicking the proposal down the road to other meetings.

One of the other big concerns for the Campo Sabino plan, the area's very high water table, was still a concern two decades later when the same property was again at the center of a town-wide development showdown.

Around 2016, the town made an effort to rezone the Couse pasture to allow for mixed-commercial development. Word got around that Smith's Food and Drug, currently located on the west side of Paseo, could build a new location on the east side of the road and within the Couse property.

Essentially, the current grocery store is sinking into the ground because of -- that's right -- the water table. "It's built on a lake," said town manager Rick Bellis in 2016.

Anyway, you can imagine how that went over.

The Couse pasture development eventually lost steam when it was discovered by then-Taos News reporter J.R. Logan the town had been in talks with Smith's for over a year about the rezoning (despite claims to the contrary during public meetings) and that the then-town attorney had familial connections to the property and the Campo Sabino proposal from the 1980s and 1990s.

50 years ago - Three "Mrs." put up election challenge for town council

By Taos News staff; Feb. 8, 1968

For the past 50 years, the seminal year of '68 has stood out as a game-changer for culture, politics and society across the United States. And the wave of rapid upsets took hold in Taos when it came time for hopeful council people to sign up for the March municipal election.

Three women -- "Mrs. Ashley (Lou) Pond," "Mrs. Irene Witt Eason" and "Mrs. Tessie Oakley Lester" -- put their names in the running against two men, George Trujillo and Seferino Castillo.

Eason, "a member of a fourth-generation Taos family" from Cañon, told The Taos News she decided to make a run for council "because I've griped long enough, and now should try to do something." Eason served in the Womens Army Corps during World War II and "saw duty in Africa, Italy and France as a sergeant." She was a pro-expansion, pro-incorporation candidate who said the snake-like boundaries of Taos "should be squared off." (That's never happened).

Lester, a "lifelong resident of Taos," ran on a platform of cooperation between the town and the county as well as "wise" spending of increased taxes. She ran the Village Beauty Shop for years and decided to run for council after retiring from her business.

Lucille "Lou" Olson Pond, a 32- year resident of Taos and a graduate of the Yale School of Nursing, was the last person to sign up for the council race. The newspaper described her as being "active in nearly all Taos civic efforts." Like Eason, she thought Taos needed more professional, full-time management, saying the town was "getting too big for part-timers."

Pond's husband was Ashley Pond III, a Yale-graduated doctor popularly credited with bringing modern medicine to Taos. Mr. Pond's father came to New Mexico in the 1900s to recuperate from typhoid fever and established the Los Alamos Boys School, which would become the campus of Los Alamos National Labs during the creation of the atomic bomb. Mr. Pond's sister, Peggy Pond Church, was a widely celebrated poet of New Mexico.

When it came time for the election, the "Mrs." won the day. Pond and Lester won the two open spots on the town council. Pond came in first with 458 votes, Lester in second with 359 votes and Eason in third with 280 votes. The men, Trujillo and Castillo, came in fourth and fifth place, respectively.

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