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AZTEC — After about a month of uncertainty, the Aztec City Commission granted New Harvest Church a conditional use permit to continue operations in the building it is renting at 222 N. Main Ave.

The commission unanimously approved the conditional use permit during its Feb. 25 meeting based on the recommendation of the Economic Development Advisory Board.

The church needed a conditional use permit because the zoning in downtown does not allow churches.

The conditional use permit was initially rejected in January due to concerns that a church in downtown could present an appearance of a vacant building and could impact future development by preventing alcohol sales. The commission was also concerned about it impacting the ability for cannabis dispensaries if recreational cannabis had been approved during the legislative session.

Following the initial rejection, Commissioner Sherri Sipe moved to table the item to allow the Economic Development Advisory Board to hear the case and make a recommendation.

The church is located in downtown, and the city hopes to develop the downtown corridor to attract businesses, including alcohol establishments. Community Development Director Steven Saavedra and New Harvest Church Pastor Danny Bost said the church will not impact those development plans because it is located in a shopping center adjacent to the Aztec Presbyterian Church and just south of the ECHO Aztec Preschool. That means establishments that sell alcohol must already seek special permits to locate in that vicinity because of the Presbyterian church and the pre-school.

The Economic Development Advisory Board recommended that the church look for non-commercial property that it could move to once its lease expires this fall. That condition was included in the approval, but the church will not necessarily be required to move if it cannot find a suitable building.

Bost said there is currently only one building for rent in a zoning area that would allow churches and it does not meet the church’s needs.

Sipe was supportive of the church being located in the downtown corridor. The building had been vacant for four years prior to New Harvest Church relocating to the location.

"It could sit empty for another four years," she said.

Hannah Grover covers government for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4652 or via email at hgrover@daily-times.com.

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