Plans for Los Picachos
By Jesús Aguado
“What is the price of that hill? Get organized and we’ll purchase it, including the dam,” are words that the ejidatarios from Don Diego—holders of a share in common lands—have heard from people who want to buy the lower part of Los Picachos. Next to this community is Juan Xidó or Loma de Cabras, a place where 200 hectares are now in conflict because the majority wants to sell it and a minority says no. On the other hand, in the upper area of San Miguel, Lomas de San Miguel (a citadel inside the big city) is projected to be built in the Picachos area.
The projects for developing the area of Los Picachos are various. Among them is the possible construction of a road connecting the road to Querétaro with the road to Celaya. The environmentalists also have projects for the zone; since 1992 they have been working to achieve the appointment of Los Picachos as a Natural Protected Area (NPA) by the state government. This last project may not stop the developing of the zone, but the construction and uses of land could be regulated by state laws. This project has been on standby since August of last year, and regardless of several letters issued to the State Institute of Ecology and to Governor Miguel Márquez Márquez, there has been no answer about the decree that Márquez must issue to declaring the zone as an NPA.
Lomas de San Miguel, the new little city
Several comments emerged when A.flo Arquitectos published the project of Lomas de San Miguel online (They downloaded the information later). There were electronic invitations to Sanmiguelenses to sign against the destruction of San Miguel—against the project. The letter, posted on change.org, had reached 1,406 signatures by Sunday, March 27. Several times, local authorities assured that in the files of that administration, there were no permits issued for this development. “If there are permits, those who have them can bring them to this office so we can have them because there is nothing here,” Abelardo Quero, director of the Urban Development Department, told Atención.
But the plan for developing Picachos exists. Atención contacted the firm that, according to social media, was behind the plan. Finally, after several calls and emails, architect Andrés Flores, who will send a press release to this newspaper, just sent an electronic mail as “our way of presenting the project.”
Lomas de San Miguel “is the result of different specialists’ work, specialists who propose solutions for the organized urban growth in balance with the essence of San Miguel de Allende.” The space “will be open for everybody.”
“We imagine a small city that everybody, regardless of their economic situation, age, religion, or place, can enjoy,” states the document. And the Lomas de San Miguel project will have natural spaces, “a system of parks and ecologic spaces as well as processes for rainwater harvesting, including waste water treatment plants.” The citadel also includes cultural and educational areas, and the idea is to “attract different public and private educational institutions of all levels and of world class.” The quality of the health services also will be improved. It is one of the project’s main objectives, according to the documents.
Regarding sustainability, the project includes a wide area for urban orchards, where the production of organic products will be the base. There will be several places open to the general public for sports. The plan includes in addition a space intended for spirituality. For infrastructure and mobility, Lomas de San Miguel will have wide lanes for pedestrians and vehicles as well as “a self-administered network of internal public transportation, which will complete the public transportation in San Miguel.”
This project offers new adventure spaces that will “attract all kinds of tourists and new experiences in well planned spaces,” for touristic and commercial uses. Finally, the project proposes sustainable housing, “houses that are continually used and not just [inhabited] during the weekends, houses that can be an option so people from bigger cities (Querétaro, Celaya, Guanajuato) can turn San Miguel into their permanent residence and create a virtuous circle.”
The documents ends, “We really believe that this project can be a reality if our group of specialists accomplishes the agreements with governmental authorities and the land owners, as well as with the community.” The representatives of A.flo also assured that they have not started processes to get permits from the local authorities because they have not finished coordinating with all the parties involved.
Loma de Cabras
On the other side of the city is Loma de Cabras. The ejidatarios are now solving the controversy. This is the second time that the majority of them want to sell a hill made up of 200 hectares. In that space, according to one person who is against the sale, there are rock paintings, flora, and fauna at risk of extinction, and with the sale it could be devastated.
The ejido is made up of 32 ejidatarios, and more than half the members want to sell the common property. Adela Monzón, who represents her father´s interests, commented that in the area, rock paintings have been destroyed. Furthermore, if the land is sold, the flora and fauna could also be damaged.
On Thursday, March 17, the ejidatarios held a meeting to determine whether or not they would sell the property. However, it takes only one negative vote to stop the sale, and the person who is against the sale is Adela’s father. For that reason, the meeting was canceled until new notice is given.
“We were born here, we grew up here, and now that it is beautiful, everybody wants to buy. It is sad that they just want to come to destroy our environment. We do have microsystems, and we cannot play with that. We do not even have enough water,” said Monzón.
Her father told Atención that his children have found other rock paintings in the upper part of the mountain that others want to sell. “One of them looks like a map, and the others are little animals,” said Don Monzón.
Señora Adela said in addition that until now, those who are promoting the sale have not told them who is buying. She does not know the price per square meter, nor the projects. She blamed ejidatarios Policarpo Cázares, Florencio Cázares, and Alejandro Elíos for the possible sale. “They are convincing everybody to sell,” said Adela.
During the meeting Atención tried to get information from Policarpo Cázares, but he was aggressive with the press. He did not grant interviews because the members of the media “are liars,” he said. Atención tried to contact Alejandro Elías, but up until now, he has not answered.
An ongoing conflict
The problem in the community of Cabras exploded in 2008 when the same Adela Monzón announced that the ejidatarios wanted to sell 1,200 hectares for the construction of a five star hotel as well as a golf camp to be constructed by Cordell Funding Mexicana. At that time, even the mayor visited the residents to present them the proposal for selling their land for 20 pesos per square meter. Nothing occurred then.
Now the conflict comes to the surface again, and Monzón says that she will file criminal complaints and will ask for help from the local, state, and federal government.
The road that could pass by Los Picachos
In April 2015, when Ricardo Villarreal was running for mayor, he commented that San Miguel needed more roads, and for that reason—and also because they were validated executive projects—he would try his best for the construction of a road connecting the road to Celaya with the road to Querétaro.
In an interview, we asked him as elected mayor, about the possible appointing of Los Picachos as an NPA and how that would impact the road project. He replied, “It does not impact because in the decree it is written that the road is a necessity, and the drawing has been proposed.” He did not take a stand on the appointment, but he did say, “The decree regulates the managing of the area as well as the restrictions of what and how to build on those more than 50 thousand hectares. We will respect whatever is decreed for better or for worse for the future generations of San Miguel.”
The presentations of the study results started in April last year, and an exclusive presentation were offered to the entrepreneurs, who agreed to the idea in early July 2015. David Guzmán, representative of the State Institute of Ecology, explained that between July and August, the project was published online for the citizens’ public consultation, which aimed to get the opinions against or in favor of the project. After the public consultation, there were more opinions in favor, and the next step was to send the results to Governor Márquez so he could decree Los Picachos as an NPA.
Guzmán also informed that if the zones were protected by the state, ladrilleras (kilns for firing bricks) would no longer be allowed in the area, and those currently operating would have to be relocated. Moreover, he advised that appointing these zones as NPAs could put the project connecting the road to Querétaro with the road to Celaya at risk, “but the Institute would give favor to the interest,” he said. If these places receive the protected designation, all local regulations will be discarded, and only state laws will apply to the zones.
What has been found in Los Picachos?
Environmentalist and social activist Mario Hernández assured Atención that records exist that Cante AC has submitted documents before different governmental offices since May 22, 1990, in order to achieve preservation of Los Picachos and Támbula. Nevertheless, it was not until three years ago that the then Ecologist Party local deputy, Jorge Arenas, visited the Presa Allende and proposed “the recovery of the Presa Allende” to the entrepreneurs of San Miguel in order to develop a touristic attraction for the city. That was easy for Arenas to suggest because his group had recovered the Palote dam in León, which is now a part of the Metropolitan Park (a natural protected area with 337 hectares, of which 85 percent is the dam). Currently, all kinds of tourist venues and activities are located in that park: restaurants, a palapa, boat rides, and bird watching. The annual International Hot Air Balloon Festival also takes place there, generating revenue of more than 500 million pesos. The San Miguel entrepreneurs wanted something like that at Presa Allende.
According to Hernández, he and nonprofit organizations, as well as other citizens, have promoted the appointing of Los Picachos and Támbula as an NPA since 1992, but they stated that after the Guanajuato Institute of Ecology proposed conducting a study to determine if the Presa Allende was worthy of the appointment, they did not find enough favorable elements. For that reason they decided to include Támbula and Los Picachos and name it as an ecological corridor.
The studies found 219 different species of flora divided in four parts: encino, scrubs, lowland forest, and meadows. With respect to the fauna, the divisions included amphibians, reptiles, birds, and mammals, including wild cats, pumas, foxes, and white tail deer. If the area gets the appointment as an NPA, the animals and plants would be shielded against all kinds of disturbance in more than 50 thousand hectares, equal to a third of the municipal land.
If the areas are designated as NPAs, changes in land use without authorization from the state government and construction of new housing developments will be prohibited. With authorization from the state government, however, industrial activities could be developed in the area. The extraction of petrous material and wildlife from the area will be forbidden or regulated. Fishing will also be regulated. On the other hand, environmental investigation or sustainable tourism will be permitted.
The Ecology Institute will regulate recreational and touristic activities, and regulations from the National Commission of Water will control the use of water.
Environmentalist Hernández commented that the State Institute of Ecology concluded the works with the citizens’ consultation, and now the responsibility for issuing the decree belongs to Governor Miguel Márquez. So far, there is no response.