Capilla de Piedra: “Everybody’s Fault”
By Jesús Aguado
The vertical construction of Capilla de Piedra could have been prevented, and now society blames the government and vice versa. At this point, only 88 apartments of the 336 approved could be removed from the plans. At the same time, the National Institute of Anthropology and History states that the construction damages the views from the historic center as well as from the World Heritage Site area.
“With these buildings that are neither colonial nor horizontal and, if that is not enough, with five and six stories in some cases, Capilla de Piedra destroys the colonial and horizontal view of San Miguel de Allende,” commented Mayor Ricardo Villarreal about the topic.
But “the developers still need to build the window boxes and that will play down the current façade of the buildings,” commented former director of the Urban Development Department, Édgar Bautista. In a previous interview for Atención, Bautista assured that there is no impact with this construction and the height of the construction respects the regulations.
Former mayor Luz María Núñez Flores attributed all the responsibility that qualified as “capital” to the city council headed by Mauricio Trejo, advising Atención that the permits for the sale of Capilla de Piedra should have been granted at the end of the urbanization and construction of the development.”
“I am not running from any responsibility. During my administration there was a ratification of the land uses, and it was granted by the city council. It was already approved,” commented former mayor Mauricio Trejo.
Núñez Flores stated that during her administration, Eduardo Arias, who was the director of Urban Development, approved the change of direction of the development from horizontal to vertical. That is why “Eduardo Arias ought to give an answer for that monstrosity that we have now,” remarked Núñez.
Everything started when…
In 1995 the developers started the process for changing the land use from forestal to habitational for a housing development then called Cañada de las Moras, a neighborhood that later changed to Vista Montaña, and finally to Capilla de Piedra.
Mayor Ricardo Villarreal commented in a press conference that the project was horizontal initially and that it was authorized on September 12, 2006, by interim mayor Juan Antonio Jaramillo, who stayed in the post when then mayor Luis Alberto Villarreal (Ricardo’s brother) started his campaign to run for senator of Guanajuato (he won).
A document submitted to Atención states that on May 14, 2009, the land use for the condominiums of Vista Montaña was ratified with ten votes of the city council during the 68th ordinary session. The president was Jesús Correa. Ricardo Villarreal said that eight blocks were approved on May 29, 2009, including two multi-family buildings. On June 10, 2010, during Luz María Núñez’s administration, the previous plans were modified, and then the construction of 38 apartments plus 28 vertical buildings was approved, for a total of 220 dwellings.
In 2010, assured Mayor Villarreal during his press conference, INAH “authorized the plan for the construction of 38 buildings (the construction that we can see from the historic center). Villarreal said in addition, showing a plan, “Here is the stamp, and here is the document stating that INAH does not find inconvenience with the modification of the trace of 2010. With the document that they presented to us in December 2015, they were asking us to clarify points of the construction, but here is their signature.” In 2012 the Water Department granted all the permits because the infrastructure regarding water and sewage was done. Finally, on October 9, 2015, the city council under Mauricio Trejo approved the construction of 88 more apartments. That is why Capilla de Piedra could have 336 apartments.
Núñez defended herself
In 2012, during Núñez’s administration, a change in the path of the development was approved, said former director of Urban Development, Édgar Bautista. The buildings were changed from horizontal to vertical.
Luz María Núñez shared with Atención that when she was president from October 9, 2009–October 9, 2012, she received an administration with 84 housing developments in progress. “When I realized the magnitude, we created the Department of Development to analyze what status they had. Capilla de Piedra was Vista Montaña, and the change of land use from forestal to habitational was granted by Juan Antonio Jaramillo. When the promoter (Iginio Maycotte) of the development came to my office to tell me his plans for developing that area, I immediately tried to make him understand that he was going to destroy the zone that was a paradise. It was for forestal preservation. I told him, “While I am mayor, from me you will have nothing. Forget it because that zone is for preservation.”
Referring to a meeting that Ricardo Villarreal held with members of nonprofit organizations and the general public, she said, “Today the mayor mentioned that in June 2010, my administration granted the change of path. The change was authorized by then director Eduardo Arias. Vista Montaña was horizontal, like El Paraíso. Then the plan was not for horizontal construction, but for vertical buildings and there were 28, but I never knew about it,” remarked Núñez.
“Does the Director of the Urban Development Department have all that power?” we asked.
She replied, “A director can authorize those kinds of changes, and sometimes the city council does not even know. I am angry because those are decisions made by incapable public servants who destroy San Miguel.”
Referring to the administration headed by Mauricio Trejo (2012–2015), she said that during that three-year term, the motives for the authorizations were other incentives. She did not make it clear but she assured that they authorized the sale permit, and that ought not to be granted until the construction and infrastructure is finished. “That is capital irresponsibility from that city council.”
Núñez proposed that there should be criminal complaints for those mistakes that damage San Miguel forever. Former mayor Núñez finally commented that Eduardo Arias had to give an answer.
Finally, she stated that Sanmiguelenses did not do anything to halt the construction because “the city was threatened by a president, Mauricio Trejo. If a citizen said something, he or she would have been threatened. That was his way to put pressure on the citizens.”
Eduardo Arias’ response
Arias told Atención that his time at the administration headed by Luz María Núñez “was very tiring.” He noted that Núñez opened the Direction of Developments, directed by architect Emilio Lara Ruiz and Patricio Rodríguez (RIP), a landscape and urbanist architect who was the coordinator of that directorship. His subdirector at that time, Alejandro Guerra, developed the internal procedural manual. “All the documents should have been signed by the coordinator, the subdirector, and me.” Arias remarked that he depended on the internal structure and handed over an organizational chart to Atención, assuring that Lara Ruiz and he were on the same level. Arias recommended, “You should interview Emilio Lara Ruiz, who supervised all the housing developments and always informed Luz María Núñez. I signed the documents because they always said that the documents had been revised by them, and I believed that they would do the right thing.”
Ratification by Mauricio Trejo
Former mayor Trejo, whom most of the citizens, as well as the current administration and Luz María Núñez, are pointing to as being responsible for the construction, responded to the accusations. He commented that he was not moved by “incentives” to ratify the documents. “My economy was very strong,” he said. He assured that he has not forgotten that Nuñez´s administration has been the worst in the history in San Miguel and the proof of it is that she did not know about the change of direction that her director of the Urban Development, Eduardo Arias, had made. Besides, continued Trejo “Señora Núñez ignores that the project was started in 2006, and since then it has fulfilled all the requirements.” About the accusation of threatening the citizens during his administration, he said that his administration was the most open, even to controversial topics. “The gag rule is applied at her home,” he said.
About the 88 apartments that his administration purportedly authorized and that Villarreal’s will try to cancel, he emphasized that this was approved in 2006. A housing development, he continued “is not authorized by a mayor; there are administrative processes. The construction was not authorized by Jaramillo, Luis Alberto Villarreal, Jesús Correa, or Luz María Núñez. We are responsible, but the approbations came because they fulfilled all the requirements.”
Trejo remarked that the verticality of the buildings was granted during Luz María Nuñez´s administration, and his city council just ratified the granted permits because the developers met all the administrative processes and requirements. Besides, all the authorities, including federal, had handed over the authorizations. About the criminal complaints against those responsible, Trejo replied, “There are no illegalities. The process has been there for more than 10 years. The authorizations granted by my then director of Urban Development, Édgar Bautista, had been discussed with Nuria Sanz from UNESCO, and there was never a position against the verticality of the constructions. That authorization was granted by Eduardo Arias.” Trejo also added, “I took care of the Heritage Site. It is not an accident that I was twice president of the National Association of World Heritage Cities, and when I was there, it was the first time that UNESCO participated with the association.”
Mauricio Trejo finished by saying that the former public servants should not run away from their responsibilities and ought to pay attention to the topics from the roots. He meant to say that Capilla de Piedra could have been stopped as early as 2006. “I am not running from any responsibility. During my administration the land use was ratified, and it was granted by the city council. It was already approved.”
Construction not authorized by INAH
Sergio Tovar, the delegate from INAH in Guanajuato since August 2013, said in an interview with Atención that from 2014 into early 2015, that office noticed the construction in progress, and they addressed a letter to Édgar Bautista on February 4, 2015, giving him the opinion that the Council of Monuments from INAH proposed against impacting the views from the historic center. According to Tovar, Bautista replied that they would try to avoid the damage by planting trees to cover the facades. “But nothing has been done,” remarked the delegate. Although INAH could do nothing legally because the construction is out of the Monuments Area as well as away from the World Heritage Site, they did recommend that the constructions should respect the height regulations to prevent the construction of six stories. “It is the responsibility of the city council, and in San Miguel it is the last administration that was responsible for authorizing construction of the houses.”
In December 2015, INAH addressed a document to this administration remarking the discordance of the architecture of the Capilla de Piedra buildings as well as a letter alerting what was being constructed. “I do not know if there was a reply to the letters,” said Tovar, who also made it clear that he did not want to create controversy with the current administration. He reiterated that INAH was not in agreement with the construction of the buildings, as was said by Mayor Ricardo Villarreal in a meeting. He made it clear that INAH did authorize the reconstruction of the Indians’ chapel inside the development, and for that reason Guillermina Gutiérrez stamped and signed the plan (in 2010) that Villarreal showed as a proof. Tovar also commented that the only document that he has signed related to authorizations for that development was the authorization for the restoration of the chapel. “I know that it is not the responsibility of the current administration, but they have the law on their side,” he finished.
Visit of the World Heritage representative
On April 7, Francisco Vidargas, subdirector of World Heritage of INAH, held a meeting with Mayor Villarreal and later gave a lecture to the cabinet of the current administration on the topic of how to take care of the heritage. Later, he told the press that in San Miguel the will of the current administration is to work on a plan to protect the area appointed as a World Heritage site. He commented that in the world there are 1,031 Heritage Sites and only Dresden has lost the appointment in 43 years. He said that San Miguel is not a topic of the UNESCO committee and is not even on a list of cities at risk of losing the appointment.
Heritage protection has to do with the will of the government, assured Vidargas, and for that reason, “We should learn from the errors of those who do not care about the heritage, but about making money.” Finally, he remarked that a specialist will come to the city and will work with the local administration and the general public to teach more about the topic of being a World Heritage site and how to take care of it. Vidargas judged that the construction mentioned in this article ‘is everybody’s fault.’ The government is not the only one responsible. We all failed.”
This year on Wednesday, April 6, Ricardo Villarreal held a meeting with members of nonprofit organizations and the general public. Later, he held a press conference and said that evidently Capilla de Piedra is a construction that goes against the view of San Miguel that in the last five centuries the landscape and the urban image of this city have grown horizontally with three-story buildings maximum and charged, “These buildings are neither colonial nor horizontal and, if that is not enough, with five and six stories in some cases, Capilla de Piedra destroys the view of colonial and horizontal San Miguel de Allende.” He said that in the previous meeting with the citizens, they agreed on several solutions. He remarked that what happened cannot be hidden.
Several meetings will be held in order to do the following:
Modify the regulations to avoid these constructions in the future. The lack of regulation on the height of buildings will be fixed;
Legally, the city council will work to cancel the 88 apartments approved on October 9 this year; Analyze all the granted permits; Have specialist architects present at the meetings in order to determine the best options for diminishing the damages to the view of San Miguel de Allende and include members from UNESCO and INAH; Analyze the vehicle and environmental impact.
Villarreal also said that the current administration has had meetings with the owners, and is in the best disposition to change whatever is necessary to fix the mistake. He assured that no more permits will be granted for the development. A demolition of this construction, as was ruled by INAH for Casa Colorada in the Guanajuato capital, was not possible because, while Casa Colorada did not have permits, Capilla de Piedra has all the permits. “Nobody revokes what they have authorized,” he said, commenting that any citizen could have filed a criminal complaint against the construction when it started, but nobody did it.
Owners unwilling to discuss
Atención contacted one of the owners and asked him for an interview, but he said, “I really appreciate your interest in this topic, but honestly I have nothing to say about it.”