Residents say natural area at risk in El Atascadero
By Antonio De Jesús Aguado
Inhabitants of El Atascadero living near the new housing development located on the edge of the Arroyo Atascadero have denounced the development as ecologically destructive. Representatives of the developers say that construction will not be stopped because they have all the required permits.
The Arroyo (stream) and Cañada (ravine) of the Atascadero are among the few green spaces located within the municipality where wild flora (herbaceous species, cactus, trees and some huizaches) and fauna (squirrels, snakes, rats, rabbits, turtles and possibly red foxes) still live, and it is valued by the residents for its natural beauty. Recently, in an area of eight hectares, Inmobiliaria Cruz de San Miguel S.A. de C.V. began installing the infrastructure for the future housing development (fraccionamiento) La Capilla (the name comes from an Indians’ chapel located on the land). Some nearby residents have tried to stop the construction because of ecological destruction and excess noise and dust but so far have not had results.
In a previous interview for Atención, Édgar Bautista, director of the Urban Development Department, explained that in 1995 the process for construction of a new residential development located between el Atascadero and Barrio de la Palmita was started. The original plan for this development was to build 300 houses, but after a review by the local government the plan was changed and the land was divided into 100 residential lots, and the remainder will be a common green area. This fraccionamiento, whose entrance will connect with the arches of Atascadero, currently only has a permit for urbanization, which consists of the construction of streets and sidewalks and the installation of electricity, potable water and drainage. This new residential development could be concluded in the next five years.
Complaints from the neighbors
Work on La Capilla began in November 2012 by scaring away the wildlife and clearing the area of herbaceous species. The urbanization started nine weeks ago and includes clearing the land with backhoes, track loaders and compactors, which generate excessive noise and dust and are “destroying the natural area,” according to residents. For that reason, several people living in the area held a meeting to request information from the local government and hired an attorney as well. The lawyer remarked that he lives on calle Ánimas (five or six blocks away from the development) and sometimes in the morning he can hear the machines. He said that they asked for a meeting with the director of the Urban Development Department, who explained the project in general terms. The same day the residents requested a copy of the entire file on the project, but it was classified as reserved by the local government. This response, according to the lawyer, “was ridiculous, absurd and cynical in the legal sense. The documents are public information and we must have access to it.”
A few days later, representatives of the developer invited the opposed residents to a meeting and provided general information about the fraccionamiento. The lawyer for the residents commented that the representative of La Capilla assured them that they would remove the trees carefully, but “they are not transplanting scientifically.” The lawyer also said that the current government has not become very involved with this problem and has been protecting the developer and ignoring the residents. “The problem originated in the SEMARNAT (Secretariat of Environment and Natural Resources) and continued with the permits granted by the local government,” he said. The group opposed to the development filed a criminal complaint with the PROFEPA (Attorney for the Protection of the Environment) and the PAOT (Environmental and Territorial Order Prosecutor’s Office).
One of the residents said that he has a guest house and the noise is intolerable. There is dust everywhere, and for that reason they need extra housekeepers. He also said that previously there were turtles, squirrels, rabbits and even foxes in the area and he is concerned about the future of the wildlife. Another resident commented that the information provided by the developers “was trash, just art” and that everything is being handled with a lot of secrecy, and that is the reason for their alarm. The residents, he said, just want to be heard, get answers and make proposals to diminish the ecological damage. A resident from El Paraíso said that along with other citizens she is seeking responses from the local government and the developers. Where will they get water from? What would happen if they do not complete the fraccionamiento? What can sanmiguelenses expect for the environment in the years to come if it is so easy to authorize change of land uses from forest to housing?
Representatives from Inmobiliaria Cruz de San Miguel S.A. de C.V., in a meeting with Atención, made a complete presentation of the project in progress, showing copies of each federal, state and municipal permit for working in the area and noting that the official numbers of the documents have been placed at the entrance of the fraccionamiento. They said that if someone needs copies of the documents they must be requested from the authorities that issued them, because they cannot legally be forced to hand over copies to individuals.
The architect consulting on the development said that she has worked with the owners since 2005 and it is her responsibility to acquire all the needed permits from the authorities, which she has obtained. “We fulfilled all the requirements from the federation,” she said. The architect said that the total area for La Capilla is 8.69 hectares, of which about 20 percent will be occupied by houses and 20 percent by streets; the remainder would be communal areas. One hundred eleven buildings will be constructed, each containing one, two or three apartments that would be inhabited by an average of five persons. The architecture, she said, will be environmentally friendly and will preserve the local ecology. The Indians’ chapel will be restored (they already have the permits from the National Institute of Anthropology and History). La Capilla will have four private streets and a main street that will connect Cuesta de Loreto and Santo Domingo, to be constructed by the owners. The new road will have bus stops and, she said, will improve the view to the ravine.
The consultant also said that since they began the urbanization process they have had five audits, three from the PROFEPA and two from the PAOT, in addition to others from the municipality, but they have fulfilled all the requirements for construction and for that reason the urbanization has not been stopped. The architect said that the noise will last for two more months and she made it clear that the construction is not a political favor but the dream of many people to generate a sustainable project.
A specialist in environmental issues acknowledged that the flora and fauna are being modified but said that the project cannot be stopped. He noted that the area is very rocky and for that reason most of the plants are herbaceous species and currently 223 species have been removed, seven trees among them. He also said that the removed plants are protected in a special area, and after construction is finished at least 70 percent of them will be replanted, and the wildlife, currently living near the stream, eventually will return to the area.