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Scott Varner: Activist for Xeriscaping, Rights Dies

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Scott Varner stood up for what he thought was right, say the people who knew him, even when it was an unpopular position.

Varner, former executive director of the Xeriscape Council of New Mexico and co-founder and president of the Towne Park Neighborhood Association, died last week of kidney cancer.

He was 69.

He was remembered for his efforts to make it possible for residents of the private community of Towne Park to xeriscape their property and to loosen some of the control held by homeowners associations.

“Scott was a very dynamic, powerful voice in these issues,” said state Rep. Mimi Stewart, D-Albuquerque, who worked with Varner to craft a bill that would have affected homeowners associations.

Varner first become involved in xeriscape issues when, in 1997, a neighbor was sued by the Towne Park Homeowners Association, which contended she violated covenants calling for consistent front-yard landscaping. She countersued, and a settlement was reached the next year, allowing her to keep the xeriscaping.

From then on, Varner was a frequent critic of the homeowners association and clashed with board members on xeriscaping and other issues.

“He tried to get people the right to xeriscape their yards if they wanted to do it, but people thought everyone would have to do it. He just wanted to save water,” said his best friend of 21 years, Eloise Colocho.

Varner had a fun side, too, Colocho said.

“We played Ping-Pong over at Manzano Mesa Community Center three times a week. He loved for me to pout because that meant I had lost – because I won more games than him,” she said.

His sister Joy Gardiner said besides Ping-Pong, he also liked to play the guitar, the trombone and the piano.

“He loved all kinds of music, including the classical,” Gardiner said. “He loved to read, he loved investigating, and he loved Scrabble because it kept your mind working and learning new words.”

Colocho said Varner never shied from taking a stand on serious issues, though.

“He was for fairness and being upfront. He was good guy,” she said.

Gardiner said Varner followed politics closely and paid particular attention to issues such as free speech.

“He was very strong on human rights and he did not like it when he felt state ordinances or federal government laws or regulations were taking away from people’s rights according to the Constitution,” she said. “He believed that if you believe in something, you should stand up for it.”

Stewart said Varner was involved in creating a bill that passed the House but didn’t get a vote in the Senate this past legislative session that would have put some requirements on homeowners associations to allow audits and the installation of water conservation technology, among other things.

“He testified and talked about his problems and lawsuits surrounding his efforts to install solar and xeriscape. He was a major part of our group,” Stewart said.

She said he was easy to work with because of his personality.

“Scott was just vivacious and optimistic and joyful. He was fun to be around, and very pragmatic about trying to change the world and make it a better place for all of us,” Stewart said.
— This article appeared on page C3 of the Albuquerque Journal

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