Citizens oppose 8,000-unit housing project
By Jesús Ibarra
The group Saving San Miguel de Allende, formed by citizens concerned about the conservation of cultural and natural assets of San Miguel, strongly opposed the city council’s authorization of a proposed 8,000-unit housing development called Lomas de Atotonilco. The land on which the development is to be built was formerly designated as fomento ecológico, meaning that it was to be preserved in its natural state. The city council, headed by Mayor Luz María Núñez, approved the change in designation in December 2011. This development, promoted by the company Banterra, is to be built on the road to Dolores Hidalgo nine kilometers from San Miguel, near the Sanctuary of Atotonilco. It will include low-, medium- and high-density housing in different price ranges; a total of 8,000 lots are to be developed over seven or eight years, covering an area of 200 hectares.
About 60 people from rural communities and low-income neighborhoods interested in buying a house attended the city council meeting to support the authorization. Members of Saving San Miguel de Allende abstained from attending to avoid confrontations. However, according to Rodrigo Treviño, a member of the group, they are taking legal action and demanding the revocation of this authorization, claiming that “the authorization of land use, with which it is intended to support the real estate mega-project Lomas de Atotonilco, does not respect the law, and therefore we are seeking to revoke it through the courts. A citizens’ complaint for violations of the Ley de Vivienda (Housing Law) has already been filed, and we will seek the intervention of the Urban Development Office of the state of Guanajuato to prevent a business that benefits just a few from injuring the people of San Miguel de Allende.”
Saving San Miguel de Allende
Saving San Miguel de Allende is an apolitical group whose sole intention is to preserve the cultural and natural assets of San Miguel. It is composed of people from various sectors of society, from businessmen to housewives, concerned about the future of San Miguel. Two of the group’s members, Rodrigo Treviño, who has directed festivals such as the Baroque Music Festival and the Cervantino in San Miguel, and Arturo Morales, an environmentalist and businessman working in the tourism sector, said the group has no political or party interests, as evidenced by the fact that many of them voted in 2009 for Luz María Núñez for mayor, hoping for a change, since they had also opposed the excessive real estate development that occurred during the two previous PAN administrations.
Authorization violates the law
According to Treviño, the authorization of this change in land use to allow construction of Lomas de Atotonilco will have wide-ranging effects and is a violation of ethics and of the law. “The realization of this project, without even having a clear development plan, would leave the municipality with a commitment to undertake expensive construction of roadway infrastructure to solve the problems such a development would generate,” said Treviño. He noted that the project follows a model that has failed with disastrous consequences in cities such as Monterrey, San Luis Potosí, Querétaro, Cuernavaca, Ciudad Juárez and Acapulco.
Treviño also thinks it is unethical that the city council chose to allow San Miguel’s ecological reserves to bring millions of pesos of income to outside land speculators. He suggests that an alternative way to benefit people who need housing would be to grant land use changes to ejidatarios and poor campesinos who could benefit from the increased value of their land instead of giving these benefits to a private company.
For Treviño, the most important aspect is the legal one. He says that the authorization of land use change contravenes articles in several laws such as the Mexican Constitution, the General Law on Human Settlements, the Municipal Law and Urban Development Law of the State of Guanajuato. He says the laws are being abused mainly in that city councilors exceeded their powers by authorizing the change in land use without federal permission and in the absence of a plan for urban development. According to Treviño, “The members of the city council ignored and clearly violated more than 70 items or legal provisions regarding ecology, housing and urban development.” Among the laws violated is Article 28 of the Law on Human Settlements, which states that farm and forest land, as well as land designated for ecological preservation, should be used preferably for such activities or purposes.
On December 22, 2011, after several consultations with lawyers, Treviño filed a citizens’ complaint before the Housing Commission of the State of Guanajuato and before the municipal comptroller, based on Articles 8 and 115 of the Constitution and Articles 1.3, 10, 82, and 83 of the Housing Law of the State of Guanajuato, which stipulate that any person can complain to the authorities about any act of bad governance. In that complaint, Treviño requests that permission for the change of land use be revoked and those responsible be punished. Treviño said that other members of Save San Miguel de Allende have different opinions and they are acting in different ways to try to stop the housing project.
Dismissal of the director of Urban Development
The local departments of Ecology and Traffic, headed by Helio Bastién and Adolfo Cervantes, respectively, provided evaluations of the housing development’s impact on the environment and traffic. The evaluations concluded that the project was acceptable. However, Eduardo Arias, then director of Urban Development, made the following observations in a document dated July 12, 2011 (DDUyOT/115-755/FRAC/2011): “The project includes 8,000 homes, which in the long term will be filled by approximately 44,000 inhabitants, which represents 63 percent of the population that currently occupies our urban areas and which will demand a water consumption of approximately 3,153,600 cubic meters per year.” Notably, four days before the approval of the land use change for Lomas de Atotonilco, Eduardo Arias was removed from office by the city council, on the grounds that he was demanding too many requirements for granting permits and that he had authorized the opening of a McDonald’s in the historic center of San Miguel, which was later suspended.
Arturo Morales, also a Saving San Miguel member, thinks that the McDonald’s issue was a pretext fabricated to remove Arias because he had objected to the housing development promoted by Banterra.
As a reply to the citizens’ complaint filed by Rodrigo Treviño, city council member Laura Gonzalez, of PRD, said the authorization granted by the city council for the Lomas de Atotonilco housing project is conditional and that if within 20 days Banterra does not meet the 18 conditions imposed by the city council, based on the opinion of the Municipal Planning Institute of San Miguel de Allende, IMPLANSMA, the authorization of land use change will be revoked. These conditions require that the development comply with DUIS-type guidelines (Sustainable Integral Urban Developments), that the development be self-sustainable and provide future residents with services such as education, health care, work, transportation, leisure options, retail outlets, wastewater treatment, and even administrative offices. IMPLANSMA require that Banterra provide a letter from INAH stating that no paleontological remains exist on the property as defined by a study conducted by UNAM, as well as a letter from UNESCO indicating that the development will not affect the status of San Miguel as a World Heritage site.
Counting 20 work days since the date the authorization was granted–December 16, 2011–the deadline for Banterra to meet these conditions is Monday, January 16, 2012. Look for more information about this issue on Saving San Miguel’s blog: http://savingsanmiguel.blogspot.com.