In Presidio County, officials could let a boutique hotel use a public park as an access point for its guests
Presidio County officials are in discussions with a local boutique hotel about letting the company use a county-owned park for tourists to access the hotel’s new location on the outskirts of town.
El Cosmico, a trendy hotel campground and yearslong fixture of the local tourism industry, announced plans earlier this year to move its entire operation to a spread of open ranchland on the town’s northeast side.
The company has since acquired the land and begun taking reservations for a slate of nearly million-dollar 3D-printed homes that are expected to be built as part of the new development, which would be located on the boundary of the Antelope Hills neighborhood outside of Marfa city limits.
Since the project was announced, some Antelope Hills residents have raised concerns about how the hotel’s new location could impact their quiet, sparsely populated subdivision. As the Big Bend Sentinel has reported, residents worry about the prospect of increased traffic on the neighborhood’s single unpaved county road, which is known to flood and require what local officials have described as costly routine maintenance.
Responding to those concerns, El Cosmico representatives in recent weeks proposed an alternative plan to Presidio County commissioners: routing their visitors through Vizcaino Park or adjacent county-owned land.
“We’re trying to find the right answer, not only for El Cosmico, but for the neighborhood, for the county, for the town,” Liz Lambert, the hotel’s owner, said in an interview. “Anything we can do to make the day to day be easier for everybody involved, we’re willing to do.”
El Cosmico initially proposed a development agreement with the county that would entail the company building either a new road through the park or on a spread of land next to it that includes a barn and roping arena. Local officials, including Presidio County Attorney Rod Ponton, have since discussed the idea of opening the new road to the public.
“The county can’t give somebody a private easement unless it wants to sell property,” he said at an October county commissioners meeting, noting that such a proposal has not yet been discussed. “The only proper way for the county to do something, if the county chose to do something over there, would be just to declare a public road.”
Ponton stressed that currently, El Cosmico has the right to use the existing public road through Antelope Hills.
“There’s nothing the county could do to stop that, and there’s nothing that Antelope Hills property owners could do to stop that,” he said.
While discussions about the alternative park road plan remain tentative - commissioners have not agreed on any course of action and have yet to schedule a vote on the matter - some Marfa residents have strongly condemned the proposal.
“It’s the most ridiculous idea I’ve ever heard,” Marfa native Dawn Shannon said. “To me, it’s just totally wrong.”
Shannon, who owns a house near the park, is among the locals who have appeared at county meetings in recent weeks to urge commissioners to reject the idea. Her main concern, she said, is that the plan would amount to local officials sacrificing public land for the benefit of a single business.
“I care that we’re losing the character of Marfa,” she said. “We’re selling out to the highest bidder, it seems to me like, and I just want to save what heritage we have left.”
County Commissioner David Beebe, who first presented the idea of a new road through Vizcaino Park at a public meeting in September, has suggested it could ultimately help keep the park open.
At the October meeting, Beebe said El Cosmico guests using the existing Antelope Hills Road could lead to a surge in maintenance costs on that road that could threaten the county’s finances, so much so that the county’s parks budget would suffer.
“I’m not advocating for development, necessarily, that’s not what this is about,” he said. “It’s a matter of defense.”
That argument hasn’t convinced Beebe’s fellow commissioner Brenda Bentley, whose precinct includes Vizcaino Park.
“Right now, my mind is against it,” she said in an interview. “I feel like they should be required to use the existing road, just like everyone else.”
Like Shannon, Bentley said feels that the proposal would primarily benefit El Cosmico.
“If it was any everyday Joe, they would be required to use the [existing] road,” she said. “It almost feels like a special favor for somebody, and I’m not cool with that.”
Lambert said she doesn’t see the plan as her company “taking the park” from locals.
“I care about that park too,” she said, noting that the hotel hosts an annual baseball game at Vizcaino Park during its Trans-Pecos Festival of Music + Love.
Lambert said any kind of road construction through the park area would be paid for by the hotel, and she suggested the project could amount to a park improvement.
“I often think how much more the park should be used,” she said. “It would be my hope that we would help improve the area, and maybe improve the chances of the park being used more often.”
The debate over how exactly tourists should access El Cosmico’s new location has prompted some mixed feelings among the different groups of locals who could be impacted by the decision.
“There’s not a good solution here,” Antelope Hills resident Malinda Beeman said at the October meeting.
Beeman has repeatedly raised concerns about the broader impact of the hotel’s planned move to her neighborhood, but she has also spoken out against the idea of the company using the park.
“To me, it’s offensive to use a park that has a long tradition as a thoroughfare for a development that’s just going to cater to people who are going to be here two or three days then leave,” she said. “The park has tradition, it has history, people have their birthdays there, people walk it, people learn to drive out there.”
El Cosmico representatives and county officials say they’re continuing to discuss the matter. In a statement, the company said it is working with the county on “additional route proposals that will be provided in future meetings.”
Still, Lambert herself has noted that the hotel already has an access point for its new location.
“Right now, the road that goes through Antelope Hills is not an added expense for us,” she said. “We already have access to the property.”
Editor’s note: Liz Lambert is a board member of Marfa Public Radio, and David Beebe is a volunteer music program host at the station. Neither board members nor volunteer DJs are involved in the station’s newsroom operations.