Commission OKs liquor license at Southwest Livestock

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The final step in the purchase of a much-objected-to liquor license was taken last month, when commissioners voted 4-1 to approve the sale.

Numerous residents and neighbors in the vicinity of Dennis Chavez's west mesa Southwest Livestock Auction asked that the license not be moved to the auction site.

The sticking point for most seemed to be that while Chavez, through his attorney, said the intent of the full service license was for the dozen or so special events he holds at the arena during the year, there was always the possibility of it becoming much more.

And that could put the public in danger due to additional drunk drivers on the roads.

The license would allow alcohol to be served at the special roping events Chavez holds, as well as for the establishment of a package liquor store, bar or restaurant which serves alcohol.

Attorney Joe Nestor Chavez, who represented Dennis Chavez at the commission's public hearing, said the decision to purchase the license came about because the state was capping the number of "picnic" licenses Dennis Chavez could obtain on an annual basis.

The attorney did say there is a small restaurant area on the lower level of the auction building and serving alcohol with meals was something Chavez might consider in the future with the full service license.

Joe Nestor Chavez said his client was unable to attend the hearing due a delivery of cattle shortly before the meeting started.

Curtis Smith lives within a mile of the livestock auction and said he and his neighbors didn't want to do anything that would "hamper (Chavez's) dreams or ambitions."

But Smith said a lot of the events were for children and there was "no place for alcohol around children."

The multiple hills on N.M. 6 and the entry into the auction that crosses the railroad tracks were things that concerned Smith, more so if alcohol was involved.

"Until that highway is widened and those hills leveled out, it's very unsafe," Smith said. "I think it's a little premature to have liquor out there. He's going to have plans, but they need to be acceptable to everyone and we need to know what they are."

Nestor Chavez said his client was aware of the liability of serving alcohol on the premises, saying "don't think for one minute Dennis would be willing sacrifice his business by not having proper oversight."

He also said during the numerous special events at the property, there were no issues.

"The only intent at this stage of the game is special events," he said.

Maxine Riley, another neighbor, said Nestor Chavez's choice of words had done very little to allay her concerns.

"Things like 'intent' and 'at this stage in the game' leave things open," Riley said.

She went on to say that during neighborhood clean-ups, there was a lot of evidence of drinking and open containers.

"I don't think we have enough enforcement to check each vehicle leaving any venue for open containers," she said. "This will leave us wide open to the trash side of the issue and the danger. This will just exacerbate the condition.

"I object to this and ask, please, don't approve the change of use."

Janice Klinger, a 20-year resident of San Clemente, lives a mile east of the auction.

"If this license is issued, the plan is to use it only for events, but it's not restricted at all. He could open a bar or package store at any time," Klinger said. "If you do have something that is open daily, that's a real worry. Highway 6 is dangerous to drive sober."

Nestor Chavez said when applying for a liquor license from the state, it is impossible to clarify and express what it will be used for.

"When you apply for a beer and wine license or a full service license, that's what you apply for," he said.

The only time restrictions are "set in stone" is when a liquor license will be used within a certain distance from a school or church, Nestor Chavez said.

"I understand your concerns. Nothing stops anyone from changing the use in the future," he said. "I can say the primary use will be the special events."

A school-aged girl who lives in the area, Eleanor Young, said she was concerned about her safety while walking home due to potential "drunks. I am feeling quite scared about what would happen."

Describing herself as living a "stone's throw" from Dennis Chavez's establishment, Virginia Smith said he has always been a good neighbor.

"I'm really torn. When he says he's going to do something he does it. I don't want to stop him from being a successful entrepreneur," Smith said. "While I believe fully his only intent right now is to use it for special events, and he and I discussed a restaurant in the future with food, he could open a bar or a package establishment.

"That would break my heart. But this doesn't belong and it opens the door to anyone else. I, too, have to join my neighbors in asking the commission to disapprove this request."

At the Sept. 19 meeting, Commissioner Georgia Otero-Kirkham made the motion to approve the sale of the license to Dennis Chavez.

"I have thought a lot about this. I know a lot of people in that area are very much against this.

"One of the things that happens in the summer are ropings and different events out there," Otero-Kirkham said. "Participants come in with ice chests full of beer and in the hot New Mexico summer, it goes down easily. If he is going to sell beer, he's not going to let it in.

"I think it will be a little more monitored and if people have to buy drinks, they are going to buy less, so we may have fewer people driving drunk. And Mr. Chavez is responsible for anyone hurt at the establishment when drinking."

Commissioner Mary Andersen was the sole "no" vote.

While most of his neighbors seemed to support Chavez's business efforts, no mention was made of the 12 animal cruelty related misdemeanors he was charges with in June.

Chavez is charged with four counts of animal cruelty, four counts of failing to abide by duties of a livestock auction and four counts of failing to immediately treat a non-ambulatory animal.

The misdemeanor charges, which are filed by way of criminal information in the 13th Judicial District Court to send a message "about cruelty to animals and how it won't be tolerated in the 13th (district court)," said District Attorney Lemuel Martinez.

Authorities in Valencia County began investigating Chavez, the owner of Southwest Livestock Auction, in March, after the Maryland-based Animals' Angels captured video of four mares that were gravely injured and unattended at the auction.

Three of the horses were shot by an employee after the animal advocates asked to have them put down, but the fourth died before it could be euthanized.

This isn't the first time Chavez has faced animal cruelty charges.

In 1990, a Bernalillo County Sheriff's deputy began investigating Chavez after finding 35 to 40 injured horses crammed into a small pen and in perilous conditions.

The horses were slated for slaughter.

However, all but one of 16 animal cruelty and neglect charges against Chavez were dismissed.

S.U. Mahesh, a spokesperson for the state taxation and revenue department, which administers liquor licenses, said in an email that state statute prohibits a person convicted of a felony or of two separate misdemeanor or petty misdemeanor violations of the Liquor Control Act in any calendar year from holding a license.

If a person who already holds a license is convicted of a felony, the license could be revoked.


-- Email the author at jdendinger@news-bulletin.com.