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Santa Fe County, UDV Reach Settlement

SANTA FE, N.M. — A local religious group can move forward with plans to build a controversial temple in Arroyo Hondo after reaching a settlement agreement with Santa Fe County, county officials said Tuesday.

Local members of Centro Espirita Beneficente Uniao Do Vegetal (UDV) filed a federal lawsuit against the county earlier this year after their application to build a temple was denied in 2011.

Under the terms of the agreement, UDV can build the temple if, among other things, it becomes a county water customer, allows the county to provide “advanced” sewage treatment for the temple, hold its services inside the temple, limits certain activities and builds a wall to shield nearby residents from the temple’s sounds and activities.

“In broad terms, this settlement permits the UDV to go forward with their plans for a Temple on land they consider to be consecrated, and the BCC obtained significant concessions from the UDV to assure that the use is compatible with the neighborhood,” Santa Fe County Attorney Steve Ross said in a statement released by the county.

“Any settlement, particularly of a land use case, represents a compromise of hard fought positions by both parties, and a good settlement is one is which neither party gets exactly what they want, but the matter is resolved without the risks, time and expense of further litigation,” Ross said.

Chris Graeser, a lawyer for UDV, declined to comment. UDV is a Christian-based religion that uses hoasca tea, made of hallucinogenic plant extracts, as a sacrament. The church’s legal right to import and use hoasca tea was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2006.

The County Commission, after listening to hours of testimony, voted 3-2 in 2011 to reject the request from UDV for master plan zoning and preliminary development plan approval of a 4,660-square-foot temple. The project was to be built on a 2.52-acre property at the intersection of Arroyo Hondo and Brass Horse roads. County staff had recommended approval of the project.

However, neighbors mounted a years-long campaign against the temple, and the Arroyo Hondo Land Trust retained the services of Santa Fe law firm Sommer, Karnes & Associates.

At one point, opponents argued that members of the church might leave services while still under the influence of hoasca, potentially making them reckless drivers, and that use of hoasca could contaminate the area’s water supply.

However, more recent claims against UDV’s application were that it underestimated potential water use and availability; its wastewater system was undersized and could potentially leak contaminants; and the temple plan was too large for its lot and fundamentally incompatible with the surrounding “long-established and rural residential neighborhood.”

People also said they were concerned about the late hours of the temple’s services, which could potentially cause late-night traffic, noise and lighting headaches.