ALAMOSA — A second public hearing for a Community Block Development Grant (CDBG) to be used for the purchase of Atencio’s Market by La Puente has is set for 9 a.m. Sept. 28 at the regularly scheduled meeting of the Alamosa Board of the County Commissioners at its meeting room, 8900 Independence Way.
The meeting comes following complaints that the first public hearing did not provide adequate notice for input.
The Alamosa County Commissioners voted unanimously on Aug. 24 to serve as the fiscal agent in an application for the CDBG funding.
“Citizens will be limited to three minutes, and they do not need to sign up to speak to the Commissioners,” said Alamosa County Administrator Roni Wisdom. “If you are not able to attend, please submit written comments to the Commissioners at 8900 Independence Way or through the Alamosa County website at: alamosacounty.colorado.gov/form/commissioner-contact.”
Atencio’s Market, located at Eighth Street and State Avenue, closed its doors for good on Aug. 31 after being in business for 30 years. In the final days before the neighborhood grocery store went out of business, Lance Cheslock, executive director for La Puente, signed a contract to buy the building with an April 2023 deadline for finalizing the purchase.
La Puente plans to relocate its food bank currently housed on Sixth Street to the new location on the south side where, according to Cheslock, “Our client records indicate that over 600 unduplicated south side households have received food from the Alamosa Food Bank over the past 4 years. These clients are not the city’s homeless population. These are long standing residents of the south side community.”
According to Cheslock, housing the pantry in the building on Eighth Street will, for the first time, allow staff from the Food Bank Network to be officed with staff from La Puente’s Valley Education Garden Initiative (VEGI). But, of greater importance to Annalise Baer, director of the Alamosa Food Bank, clients will now have a space inside to wait while it is their turn to shop, sparing them exposure to the elements outside and – quoting one of the clients – the “humiliation” of standing in line outside of a food bank waiting to get food to feed his family.
A public hearing is a required part of applying for a CDBG, which is funded through the Department of Local Affairs with the state of Colorado. The first public meeting was posted on Sept. 2, for the meeting held the following Wednesday at 3 p.m. About a dozen people attended, the majority of whom were either volunteers or staff with La Puente or people who had accessed their food bank services in the past.
However, Penny Petty – a long time resident who lives on Eighth Street near Atencio’s and had closed her business to attend – voiced a different opinion.
“The notice for this meeting was posted on a Friday before a three-day weekend,” Petty said. “And then the meeting was held in the middle of the day when most people are working and couldn’t attend. We were blindsided by this.
“We just want to have a say.”
Petty requested another meeting be held, with more notice and at night so that more people could attend.
At that time, Alamosa County Commissioner Vern Heersink, who also attended along with County Administrator Wisdom, said he had “received letters”, suggesting the letters were in opposition. He did not clarify if those letters were in opposition to when the hearing was being held or the project, itself.
Both Heersink and Wisdom agreed a second public hearing was appropriate.
According to Cheslock, the CDBG application is for $287,000, which would be used in its entirety toward the $360,000 sale price agreed to in the purchase. Cheslock previously shared that La Puente already has raised $277,000 for the project.
The grant is needed to buy the building, he says, and would allow whatever is raised over the purchase price to be spent on doing much needed updates and improvements to the building.
“We look at this request as a way to get additional grant funding into the south side to keep a building from becoming vacant,” said the Alamosa County Commissioners in a joint statement to the Valley Courier.
“The decision regarding the county fiscal agency is not final and we look forward to the community's input. We understand this may create a food desert for some but we believe that there is a need to distribute food through the food bank in a more appropriate location.”
When asked why the meeting was not scheduled in the evening making it possible for more people to attend, the commissioners did not respond.
“People are asking should we do this or should we not,” Cheslock said in a statement to the Valley Courier after the hearing. “Please understand we’ve already signed a contract and put down a non-refundable down payment.
“What I would like people to think about is how can we make this a win for everyone? How can we make this project better? Should we roast green chiles in the fall, like Junior did over the years or put healthy food in kids backpacks on Friday afternoons for the weekend?
“We want people to be thinking about how to make this a more of a good thing beyond a food pantry. Imagination, anyone?
Petty said concerns for those who live in the area of Atencio’s should be heard.
“There are a lot of very smart and committed people who work with La Puente,” Penny Petty told the Courier. “I’ve known some of them for years and I respect them. But I live on the south side. I’ve lived there for thirty years.
“Tax dollars pay for some of the programs, and there’s no engagement with the community or the ability to have input into what is going on in our own neighborhood. We just want to have a say.”