Hill given to land grant group


One of Valencia County’s most recognizable landmarks found its way home Tuesday morning.

In a quiet transaction at the community center in Tomé, the Valley Improvement Association transferred ownership of Tomé Hill and the Puerto del Sol park at its base to the town of Tomé Land Grant.

VIA’s Chief Executive Officer Paul Baca said the organization has been considering what to do with the hill for the last few years.

“For me, I understand the people of Tomé and how they feel about the hill,” said Baca. “The people there have a real passion for it. This was a historic and momentous occasion.”

Lawrence Sanchez, the president of the board of directors for the Town of Tomé Land Grant, said he and the board were excited about the transaction.

“This is a very big deal, definitely,” Sanchez said.

He emphasized that as far as public access goes, nothing will change.

“People can still do their pilgrimages, take their walks,” he said. “The only thing we don’t like is people going up with dogs and other animals.”

Baca said he and the VIA board considered several options as to who would be the best guardian of the hill.

The University of New Mexico came to mind, since it has done extensive research on the petroglyphs on the hill.

But Baca was worried the property would be “lost” in such a large organization.

The Immaculate Conception Catholic Church in Tomé was considered as well as the people of the parish itself, he said.

“A lot of tradition and heritage of the hill is tied to the church,” Baca said.

But ultimately, the board felt the land grant was best able to take care of the hill.

“As a political subdivision of the state, they could access funding to sustain the hill,” Baca said.

While the hill was given to the town, VIA listed some of its larger assets for sale in September. Timan and Del Fuego parks, at 12 acres and 8 acres, respectively, and the 35,000-square-foot Valley Plaza, priced at $495,000, were all put on the market. The parks were listed at $10,000 per acre.

Since then, both parks have been sold, Baca said, and contrary to rumor, the plaza is still on the market.

Baca said the listing for the plaza expired and he has not renewed its listing.

“But it is for sale if someone is interested,” he said.

There are also several miscellaneous pieces of property for sale that Baca is peddling by word-of-mouth.

Herman Tabet, owner of Tabet Lumber and Holiday Inn Express, confirmed he bought both the parks as long-term investments. Tabet said he had no immediate plans to develop the properties.

“I’ll be building houses on them one of these days or somebody will,” Tabet said. “It might be a long time before that happens.”

With the sale of the parks, Baca said VIA has stabilized its financial situation.

“We have settled some pending lawsuits and cleaned up our payables. We have one debt and that’s on the plaza,” he said. “This sustains us. We did what we had to do.”

In the plans for next year is VIA coming down hard on homeowners violating the covenants.

“It’s not fair for someone to live next door to a person they have to call the environmental department on because they throw their trash in the front yard,” Baca said.

The association will also increase its communications with both resident and nonresident members, as well as manage assets to determine which to keep and which to sell.

“We are not going to keep assets unless we can pay our property taxes on them. That’s not responsible and it’s not fair for us to have the property and not pay the taxes,” Baca said. VIA recently paid $130,000 in back taxes to the county on two properties — the plaza and Belen Sand and Gravel.

And when the organization considers whether to take back a member’s property because of back-owed assessments, Baca said properties with tax debt higher than the value won’t be accepted.

“That’s the only way we can get a realistic look at our assets,” he said. “Our projected cash balance for next year looks good. We now need to decide what VIA is going to be for the community.”

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