City Council Candidates examine West Side issues

Candidates for City Council seats in Districts 1, 3 and 5 gave brief presentations on how they would address issues confronting the City at a recent WSCONA meeting. The general election will be October 3, and early voting runs from September 13 to 29 at these locations.

While limited to two minutes and a few questions from the audience, they attempted to differentiate themselves and offer concrete proposals in dealing with crime, land development, relationships with the community and other areas.

Here are highlights of their comments, by district and in alphabetical order. Continue reading City Council Candidates examine West Side issues

Santolina Land Swap plan to be considered by County

The Bernalillo County Commission is scheduled to consider the proposal to trade land planned for development east of the city for vacant-but-buildable government infill land  at its meeting Tuesday, August 15, beginning at 5 pm.

The plan, which would use the Santolina area for solar farms,  open space and other environmentally friendly uses, was outlined in an August 5 letter by Paul Lusk, David Vogel and Julia Stephens.

They bring extensive experience to the table, having served in positions ranging from:

  • UNM professor of Architecture & Planning
  • Planner for the County and City
  • Economic and community development specialist

A detailed  rationale for the plan is attached to the letter.

A July 24 post offered additional details, , and was titled “Solve Santolina by Swapping City and County Land.”

Resolution against IDO shows unified approach


WSCONA has submitted a formal resolution in opposition to the Integrated Development Ordinance as currently written.

In a letter to Trudy Jones, chair of the City’s Land Use, Planning and Zoning Committee, WSCONA said it was joining the Historical Neighborhood Alliance and the Taylor Ranch Neighborhood Association in questioning provisions of the ordinance.

WSCONA resolution on IDO

The Committee has scheduled three hearings on the proposed changes beginning August 16th. WSCONA land use monitors have urged residents to attend.

Details of the resolution are contained in several documents, but center on limits that would be imposed on the ability of residents to become involved in decisions, loss of neighborhood identities, rezoning of properties to much less restrictive status, and the possibility of declaratory rulings affecting all parts of the City that could be made without notice and with no right of appeal.

Documents that the resolution are based on include:

City zoning changes could surprise residents

Rene Horvath and Jolene Wolfley, who monitor land use issues for WSCONA, outlined potentially serious results if the Integrated Development Ordinance, or IDO, now being considered by the City goes through as currently planned.

The IDO, conditionally approved by the City Council March 30, continues to move through city agencies, and is now scheduled to go before the Land Use Planning and Zoning Committee August 16 and 30, as well as September 13. Public comments will be accepted.

WSCONA to date has argued against allowances in the plan for:

  • Higher density
  • Taller buildings
  • More intensive building
  • Decreased public involvement

They said the City is “rushing to approve” the IDO, and asked West Side residents to show support for modifying the plan at the meetings. A revised zoning map shows significant changes.

They pointed out that the plan, which includes Bernalillo County, has not been formally considered by the County, would not only alter the map, but significantly change zoning processes in ways that could surprise residents.

The entire city is being what she called “up-zoned,” so that everything that is now C2 could become C3, allowing for many possible new uses. Residents who have for years considered their surroundings as residential may see development with a variety of commercial uses in nearby lots (auto refueling, repair, outdoor storage, etc.) without the opportunity to weigh in prior to construction. Continue reading City zoning changes could surprise residents

Solve Santolina by swapping city and county land

Albuquerque mayoral candidate Gus Pedrotty raised a provocative  idea at a recent forum that involves completely changing the way the City and County look at the proposed Santolina development west of the city.

The project involves approximately 13,700 acres south of Interstate 40. Western Albuquerque Land Holdings and Barkleys Bank are the land owners and developers.

Although given initial approval, the plan continues to be reviewed by the Bernalillo County Board, and motions to appeal  earlier decisions will be heard at a special zoning hearing August 15, continuing to August 30 if necessary.

Gus Pedrotty

The approach would be based on what Pedrotty called a “land swap,” in which the City and County would offer selected parcels of land for infill within their jurisdictions, along with appropriate economic incentives, in exchange for the current Sandolina site. A range of options would then be open for using the site, including an open space, a large solar array farm, or other uses. He described it as simpler, less expensive to taxpayers, and more in line with good planning practices.

The idea has also been proposed by experienced planners David Vpgel and Paul Lusk. Continue reading Solve Santolina by swapping city and county land

Lower river, possible drought

Water levels in the Central Rio Grande are as low as they have been in several years. And, while the levels may rise again in the short term, the longer prognosis includes some possibility that drought conditions will return.

The river is low because the “monsoon season rains have largely missed us,” says Katherine Yuhas, Water Conservation Officer with the city and county Water Utility Authority, adding that she hoped that predicted rainfall in the coming week would ease the situation somewhat.

There are several factors that contribute to the relatively low flow levels:

  • Reduced precipitation in the area since spring
  • Releases by the Cochiti and El Vado reservoirs — largely for agricultural use — are siphoned off before they reach the lower river
  • Snow melt has ended

She noted that the New Mexico Drought Task Force reported in May that conditions in Central New Mexico have been turning dry, despite several months of above-average precipitation earlier in the year..

The entire area from Taos to Los Cruces may be reaching the first stages of drought in coming months, she said.

Water, water everywhere……..

The Bernalillo County Water Authority addressed several water quality issues at a WSCONA meeting July 5, including:

 

  • Conservation efforts
  • Contamination from Kirkland Air Force Base
  • Levels of arsenic
  • Conditions for development at Santolina, southwest of the City

Meanwhile, Sandoval County is considering changes in permitting processes that would hasten approval of drilling and fracking in the Rio Rancho area, potentially affecting water quality on the West Side. A public meeting to discuss the plans for the proposed ordinance is scheduled for July 11th, beginning at 6 pm on the 3rd floor in the Sandoval County Administration Building, 1500 Idalia Rd, Bernalillo.

Water Authority speakers noted that current consumption levels — 129 gallons per person per day — are well below projected usage under the 100-year conservation and resource management plan. Also, efforts to preserve the aquifer have been aided by the increased use of surface water from the river and San Juan-Chama Project in recent years. The Authority currently partners with the Nature Conservancy and other organizations on programs to replenish the aquifer, such as pumping water up the mountain and letting it seep back down.

Contamination from jet fuel and other chemicals at Kirkland AFB over decades  is being addressed. Continue reading Water, water everywhere……..

Mayoral forum touches on west side issues

While the discussion was not limited to the West Side, comments by six mayoral candidates at a June 15 forum hinted at some of their thinking about issues that affect the area.

The nonpartisan forum, hosted by the Democratic Party of Bernalillo County, included:

Candidates Ricardo Chavez and Wayne Johnson did not participate.

Video of the meeting is available.  Some of the issues that were highlighted:

Crime

Brian Colón

All the candidates said they believed it was not only necessary but possible to fully staff the city police department and reduce crime levels. Wheeler-Deichsel said the city should “complete the Department of Justice process to a ‘T’,” saying it is essential that the department regain the support of the community.

Michelle Garcia Holmes

Garcia Holmes, a former police detective, said reducing crime would be her primary focus. Many of the candidates advocated replacement of senior police staff, and several advocated  promotion systems that would encourage officers to stay on the force. There was broad support for providing social services that can reduce the levels of crime and recidivism, as well as community policing. Colón called for better training. He added that, while the DOJ process should be completed and “whoever is elected may remove the chief of police,” it is the mayor who should accept responsibility, and citizens should ensure that he or she does.

Rapid Transit

Susan Wheeler-Deichsel

Wheeler-Deichsel thinks ART will be an “absolute game changer,” saying she had studied other “failing cities” and saw that a “21st Century transit system is essential to reshaping the city.” Keller stated that he supports public transit, but believes the ART project was “handled wrong,” and that the approval process “excluded the community.” He suggested that the next mayor “make lemonade” out of the project, perhaps reducing the number of dedicated lanes, and making the entire system integrated to meet the needs of commuters. He suggested using local artists to design stops and get away from the “Denver airport look.”

Renewable Energy

Dan Lewis

Having the city move toward providing a more significant percentage of its energy from renewable sources was cast as a priority by most candidates. Councilor Lewis said he had called for an impact study that supported the policy of making 25 percent of city buildings be powered by solar energy by the end of the year, and noted that the private market is driving adoption of solar energy by businesses and homeowners. He cautioned against what he called “job-killing regulations” that would hamper business growth in the area, which he cited as a major success story for the city and state.

Tim Keller

Pedrotty and Keller advocated more aggressive approaches based on public-private partnerships but including state and city support for major infrastructure development and initiation of renewable-friendly policies. They maintained that it is a priority that will save money in the long run. Wheeler-Deichsel said she supports a commitment made by the city to be energy neutral by 2030. She and Keller also urged the city to focus on clean public transit.

Gus Pedrotty

Pedrotty, noting he usually hears about solar and other renewable sources as future aspirations, stated that “it is here,”  and asked why more action to adopt it has not been taken. He said it is the responsibility of government to provide the thinking necessary for the transformation, suggesting, for instance, that a “land swap” with owners of the Santolina property would provide the basis for building a productive solar farm and save “enormous amounts of water” in the deal. Both he and Keller advocated having the city sign on to the Paris Agreement.

Both Keller and Pedrotty believe that fracking should not be allowed in the city or Bernalillo County.

Relationships with the Community

Several candidates were critical of how the City deals with neighborhoods, particularly regarding large infrastructure projects such as ART and zoning changes such as the current ABC-Z Zoning and Integrated Development Ordinance, now under consideration by the City Council. They committed to establishing better processes for soliciting input from individuals and organizations on major initiatives.

Neighborhood opposition does not stop special tax treatment for La Orilla center

Despite strong objections from nearby neighborhood leaders, the Bernalillo County Commission on May 23 approved a tax incentive of some $1.7 million for the shopping center under construction at the intersection of Coors Boulevard and La Orilla. The decision, which raised questions about the legality of the decision and lack of information prior to its approval, was front page news in the May 29 Albuquerque Journal.

The anchor for the property, known as La Orilla Estates, is the Flix Brewhouse, a combination movie and dining venue that also features craft beers. The owner requested an Industrial Revenue Bond, or IRB, for the facility and other tenants, saying that the manufacture and distribution of beer would result in jobs.

Alban Hills and Taylor Ranch neighborhood associations, which border the area, questioned why the County should support such tax breaks.

Their argument, according to Rene Horvath, who follows land use issues for WSCONA, raises the question of why a tax incentive is needed when the brewhouse is already built. Such bonds, she said, “historically have been used to grow the economic base by attracting new jobs to an area, “such as solar companies, manufacturing companies, corporate headquarters, aviation companies, etc.” The brewhouse, she noted, “did not need tax incentives to locate at the Village at La Orilla,” as it is built and is fully operational. She labeled the effort “corporate welfare,” noting that, “as the County Commission has increased taxes on its citizens, it should not then decrease taxes on businesses.”

Under an IRB, property taxes are paid for a specific time by a County bond, which is in turn paid for by the developer over several years.

In the letters and presentations by Alban Hills representatives at the hearing, they argued that this is an inappropriate use of tax incentives that sets a precedent for unfair competition among businesses of similar uses.

They also noted that the site lacks adequate parking for existing activities, much less those that are planned. Brew house employees and some customers now park across Coors on busy Friday and Saturday nights.

Major issues are outlined in the Taylor Ranch letter on La Orilla and the Alban Hills letter on La Orilla.

Continue reading Neighborhood opposition does not stop special tax treatment for La Orilla center

EPC recommends approval of IDO, with conditions

The Environmental Planning Commission (EPC) voted 6-1 on May 16 to recommend that the City Council approve the Integrated Development Ordinance (IDO) and the zoning conversion map, with conditions that include further hearings and discussions on the map.

Staff reports and presentations  say the project team will create a redline draft of the IDO and an updated zoning conversion map. They will hold public meetings in June and July, when the redline draft is ready. 

The Council’s Land Use, Planning, and Zoning Committee will review the redline draft and conversion map at a hearing in August. 

Here is the EPC Decision Notice