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Land Grant Deemed a Town

Bernalillo County has a new town.

Sort of.

The state Legislature last year made the town of Atrisco Grant-Merced into a political subdivision of the state. But the new town — a re-formation of the historic Spanish land grant — has no authority over private citizens and property owners within its boundaries, and it has no taxing authority.

Instead, town officials say, it is a vehicle to ensure that a historic community and its way of life will survive.

“We still want to maintain the continuity of history, heritage and culture that make us a people,” said Jaime Chavez, a member of the grant’s board of trustees.

New Mexico land grant law gives certain powers to a land grant board, like the power to determine land use and zoning on the grant’s common lands and to enter into cooperative agreements with other governments.

The question of incorporation is not on the table and probably won’t be for some time, said Chavez and Jerome Padilla, president of the board of trustees. “That’s something we don’t want to take on right now,” Padilla said. “It’s too divisive.”

Instead, the community will try to find ways to preserve its heritage and make life better for the estimated 80,000 heirs who live within the 90,000 acre grant, Chavez said. The town is bounded roughly on the south by Pajarito Road, on the north by Oxbow and Western Trail, the Rio Grande on the east and the Rio Puerco on the west.

The area includes up to 50,000 non-heirs, but provisions of the land grant re-formation won’t apply to them, Chavez said. Heirs who wish to register with the grant must pay dues of $200 a year, which can be reduced to $20 with 20 hours of community service.

Chavez stressed that the new town has no ties to Westland Development Co., which formed in 1969 and sold its corporate holdings in 2006 in a bitterly divisive action. In 2007, shortly after the sale, a group called “Atrisco Vive” formed to promote the Atrisco grant.

In 1692, Spanish reconquerer Don Diego de Vargas awarded an 82,000 acre grant to an individual, with the first settlers moving into the Atrisco Valley in 1703 and up to 200 people living there by 1760. Descendants of those original families are heirs to the grant.

“This action is pertinent only to heirs. In other words, we’re not trying to take over anything. This isn’t a move to tax anyone,” Chavez said. “All it does is give us a structure within the land grant laws of New Mexico, giving us a political subdivision as an instrument to manage our land grant.”

Some common lands of the grant remain, Chavez said, despite the 2006 land sale to a California development company, which subsequently went into bankruptcy. Chavez said the board has a land use committee “studying possible options for the future re-acquisition of our traditional lands.”

As a unit of government, Chavez said, the Atrisco board “does pass policy on the grant.” The board’s first official act, he said, was to approve a partnership with the South Valley Regional Association of Acequias.
— This article appeared on page D1 of the Albuquerque Journal