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County officials consider road through Vizcaino Park to divert El Cosmico traffic

A map showing the proposed route of an alternative route to the new El Cosmico grounds, included in a presentation given at Presidio County Commissioners Court last Wednesday.
Image courtesy of Presidio County.
A map showing the proposed route of an alternative route to the new El Cosmico grounds, included in a presentation given at Presidio County Commissioners Court last Wednesday.

MARFA — County Commissioner David Beebe last week proposed an alternative route to divert traffic expected to flock to the new, expanded El Cosmico off Antelope Hills Road — one that would cut through Vizcaino Park.

The suggestion drew strong reactions from the crowd at Wednesday’s regular commissioners court meeting. Some of those gathered decried the idea of cutting a road through the park, which they saw as an untenable solution to the acknowledged problem of road access.

“The thought of having an easement through Vizcaino Park is ridiculous,” said local Dawn Shannon, who owns land near the incoming development. “In this day and time, people are trying to save parks. You talk about high density and thousands of visitors, and if that goes through Vizcaino Park, that’s the end of Vizcaino Park.”

It was the first time an agenda item relating to the El Cosmico expansion had been heard by the court, though it is sure to be the first of many, with the land deal complete and discussion over project logistics moving full steam ahead. The proposal was merely a discussion item — no action was taken on the matter — and both Commissioner Beebe and County Judge Joe Portillo emphasized that it marked the beginning of a lengthy process that will include public input.

The item was put forth in response to concerns voiced by Antelope Hills residents themselves. The proposed relocation and expansion of the trendy resort and campground has elicited numerous safety and quality-of-life concerns from residents and landowners within the neighborhood, who have formed a coalition to present their concerns as a united front. Among those concerns is the impact that relatively high volumes of traffic — the new El Cosmico will have a guest capacity of 120, roughly double that of the current location — on Antelope Hills Road. The road is unpaved and poorly maintained, with an entrance that floods when it rains.

A map produced by El Cosmico’s engineers showing the “access road plan” to the new El Cosmico that would carve a path through Vizcaino Park.
Image by Dunaway, courtesy of Presidio County.
A map produced by El Cosmico’s engineers showing the “access road plan” to the new El Cosmico that would carve a path through Vizcaino Park.

Beebe called the road issue “one of the elephants in the room” with regards to the development — he’d heard concerns about traffic and dust from residents. One such resident, Barbara Tennant, appeared in commissioners court to read a statement from the burgeoning neighborhood group of which she is a member. The statement was very explicit. “El Cosmico should not be allowed any access whatsoever through the Antelope Hills subdivision,” she said.

As a county official, Beebe’s concern was with the maintenance of Antelope Hills Road — a county road that falls under the court’s purview.

“It’s my opinion that we already have trouble keeping up with road maintenance on Antelope Hills Road even without however many cars per day would be added,” he said.

In conversation with Liz Lambert, El Cosmico’s founder who is spearheading the project, Beebe had suggested that the development’s entrance be moved from Antelope Hills Road to the state-maintained FM 1112, and proposed granting the development an easement through the county-owned Vizcaino Park — there, El Cosmico would maintain a driveway that would also be open to the public.

The proposal did not sit well with all those present. In addition to Dawn Shannon, Antelope Hills resident Malinda Beeman stood to say that neighbors had not requested the alternate route cut through the park. Presidio County Sheriff Deputy Mitch Garcia spoke out against disruption of the park — he pointed to the town of Fredericksburg as a tourist destination that has maintained its parks despite traffic volumes. “There’s no county road that cuts through Lady Bird Johnson Park,” he said. “Take that into consideration –– it’s the consideration of the people that live here. These people come and go, but how about the people that live here, the people that pay the taxes?”

Garcia expressed broader concerns with the development’s expansion — in his experience in law enforcement, he said, tourists do not tend to respect the land they visit nor its residents. “The people that come to these events, they don’t care for the property of anybody that lives out here,” he said. They would jump fences to take photos, he said — “I’ve seen it in Marfa, they go on peoples’ property.”

While the road is one of many issues raised by locals since the incoming development was announced, it is one of the few matters the county has any say in at all. The land on which the resort is being built is private land that falls outside city limits, making it free of zoning restrictions and other city oversight.

“A lot of people just don’t want this development to happen at all, and we as a court don’t have any zoning abilities,” acknowledged Beebe. “We have very very limited resources to stop people doing what they want to do with their own land. We are not permitted to intervene in neighborly disputes. We’re not a court of law.”

And as such, even with the advent of an alternative route, the county can’t stop visitors or anyone else from using Antelope Hills Road, said County Attorney Rod Ponton — it is a public road, after all.

In a statement to The Big Bend Sentinel, Liz Lambert said her team would continue to listen to the community as the process moves forward.

“We’re continuing to listen to community feedback on all aspects of the project and explore alternatives where possible,” said Lambert. “The proposed new road is a result of conversations with Antelope Hills residents and in response to neighborhood concerns.”

This story first appeared in the Big Bend Sentinel and was reported by Allegra Hobbs.