Friday, August 14, 2015

Editorial in Albuquerque Journal Today


Land use controversies in Santa Fe are usually about bricks-and-mortar projects – apartments, Wal-Marts, having a Chipotle restaurant in the Railyard instead of vacant space, buildings that aren’t flat-roofed or tan, or a big assisted living facility.

But now we’ve moved into new territory – 3½ acres of fertile land, with rows of organic sunflowers, greens and other vegetables, and a little stand to sell produce from along an open-space walking/biking path. 

Poki Piottin’s beautiful urban farm that he says makes no more than $10,000 a year hasn’t fared any better at City Hall than building plans of profiteering land developers.

Piottin, who has been cultivating his Gaia Gardens with partner Dominique Pozo for five years on old farmland along the Arroyo Chamiso in midtown Santa Fe, is calling it quits. 

Gaia Gardens just can’t get it right with the city code enforcers.

Among the things that, at least for now, City Hall can’t abide is his little produce stand that is best reached on foot and or by bicycle. 

As Piottin points out, some homes around town have weekly yard sales and get away with retailing in residential neighborhoods, while he can’t operate his three-mornings-a-week stand selling freshly picked produce.

His farm is located in an area that, at least in its parts backing up to the big arroyo and the city trail, retains more than a bit of its old rural character. Piottin also has been called on the carpet for having too many school kids visit to learn how food is grown.

Digging down into the technical murk, Piottin’s problems seem in part related to the fact that he rents instead of owns the garden site, with one city official suggesting Piottin may have been eligible for some kind of “homeowner permit” for his activities.

And the garden is facing an uncertain future from the property’s owner having a foreclosure action filed against him, yet apparently showing no interest in selling the land to Gaia Gardens and an associated nonprofit.

The City Council has been trying to encourage just what Piottin has been doing and it appears that some kind of pro-urban farming measure has been in the works for more than a year – but now it’s too late for Gaia Gardens.

Piottin says he doesn’t blame the Land Use staffers who’ve cited him, since they have to enforce the codes as written. 

He says he’ll be giving away the produce that he and his partner raise through the rest of the 2015 growing season.

City higher-ups have stepped into other situations, like finding street parking for a small business. It just seems crazy that the combined forces of the city bureaucracy and elected officials who talk the talk about sustainability and buying local couldn’t find a way to make Gaia Gardens a welcome part of Santa Fe.

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