South32 VP of Corporate Affairs Greg Lucero answers a question from the audience at the March 26 Planning and Development Committee Open Hearing. Photo by Aisha Sander

South32 has withdrawn their application for a use permit to build a 3.9 acre parking lot and staging area off Harshaw Road, having requested that the Town Council table the permit decision which was to be voted on during the April 10 meeting. At that council meeting Mayor Andrea Wood recommended that the permit be denied in its current form, as it was unclear how South 32 would be revising the application. She requested that South 32 submit a new plan and start the process again with the Planning and Development Committee (P&D). 

However, Greg Lucero, Vice President of Corporate Affairs at South 32, said that it is “highly unlikely that we will submit another application. We are currently considering the possibility of developing the property under its permitted use, single family residential.”

South32 had submitted a use permit application to P&D to build a 3.9 acre parking lot and staging area off Harshaw Rd. on their 29 acre property on Red Rock Avenue in March. Approximately 60 people had attended an open P & D hearing held on March 26 to discuss the permit. A second hearing was held on April 3.

The audience shared concerns about compliance with the town’s truck ordinance and the eventual need for South32 to transport ore. Lucero said that South 32 is looking for an access road in and out of town. He recently wrote that “until a bypass route is established our only viable route in and out of the site is via Harshaw Road.” 

At both open hearings Council member Michael Stabile asked South32 to submit a weekly truck manifest to ensure good faith with the Truck Ordinance. Both times his request was not addressed by mine representatives. 

On April 3 the P&D Committee shared their recommendations but were not able to reach a consensus.

David Budd, chairman of P&D, said that the town is at a “tipping point.” “Patagonia is an extra special town, well-known and relatively stable with its green economy, small-town flavor, eco-tourism industry, and a growing restoration industry,” said Budd, and the use permit from South 32 does not fit with the town plan. Committee member Susan Lange concurred with Budd’s statement. 

P&D committee member Todd Norton favored the use permit. The parking lot would push traffic out of town without straining the town infrastructure, Norton said. 

Committee member Gary Rutherford said that a yes or no answer is too simple and asked South 32 to propose a plan that would bring more benefits to the town. Melissa Murietta abstained from voting. 

A majority of the attendees at the hearings did not approve of the mine having an industrial presence within town limits.

This is the first time the town of Patagonia has had to deliberate over a use permit application of this scale. The Town General Plan, which was renewed for another 10 years in April 2019, was often quoted and referred to throughout this process, demonstrating the importance of the Town Plan.