Santa Fe council delays decision on Hyde Park Road development

September 1, 2018

On one side of the makeshift dais, City Councilor Roman Abeyta sat hunched over, bleary-eyed and yawning.

On the other, City Councilor Mike Harris rocked back and forth in his chair, rubbing his neck with his hand.

While most Santa Feans were fast asleep in the wee hours of Thursday morning, Mayor Alan Webber and city councilors were knee-deep in discussions over a 49-home subdivision that a local developer wants to build on 40.5 acres of steep and rugged terrain off Hyde Park Road.

In a marathon session that ended closer to breakfast than dinner, the governing body voted 6-3 to postpone until Sept. 26 consideration of an appeal of the Santa Fe Planning Commission’s decision in March to approve a preliminary subdivision plat for the ridge-top project.

“Is the postponement going to be limited so that they can discuss drainage or are we going to land up discussing density again and [having] another six-hour hearing again in September?” Abeyta, who said he was leaning toward denying the appeal, asked before the vote.

The proposed subdivision has generated stiff opposition from downhill neighbors, some of whom waited for hours Wednesday night to voice their concerns about potential flooding and traffic problems caused by the proposed development.

“Can I make a suggestion?” Webber asked after the vote. “Whether you’re staying or leaving, stand up and stretch.”

For people who had been sitting on folding chairs in the cavernous exhibit hall of the Santa Fe County Fairgrounds, which is where Wednesday’s — and then Thursday’s — meeting was held, it was a good suggestion, especially for those who had been there since the start at 5 p.m.

The vote to postpone, taken at about 1:30 a.m., didn’t signal an end to the meeting.

The council spent the next hour or so listening to a request for a development plan for a 120-unit apartment complex at 2725 Agua Fría St.

“We will follow the same process [as the previous public hearing], hopefully more expeditiously,” Webber told the audience before consideration of the Agua Fría proposal. By that time, the crowd had thinned out as the meeting dragged on.

The proposed project, located on 6 acres on the former site of the nonprofit Ecoversity, started as a 450-unit apartment community but was later reduced to 399 units. Amid strong opposition from area residents, the governing body rejected a rezoning request for the proposal, which was known as El Rio or Blue Buffalo.

A 2015 hearing on the proposed project drew a crowd of hundreds.Thursday morning, the crowd was much smaller and more supportive.

“This is a hell of an improvement,” said Pancho Sobien, the last speaker of the night. “They’ve done a really remarkable job. I think the landscaping is going to be beautiful, and I really look forward to it happening.”

After the council denied the rezoning in 2015, the city initiated a planning effort for the so-called West River Corridor area. The planning process led to the creation of the West River Corridor Overlay Zoning District. The city Planning Division recommended approval of the latest project, saying the proposed development plan complies with overlay district standards, as well as applicable standards for the underlying zoning.

“You just spent six hours on something that’s contentious, and now you’ve got one that you can literally call the question and move this thing along,” said Kim Shanahan, executive officer of the Santa Fe Area Home Builders Association. “Let’s all go home and go to bed.”

If only it were that easy.

City Councilor Renee Villarreal peppered the applicant and city staff with questions.

But at the end, close to 2:30 a.m., the vote to approve the development plan was unanimous.

This week’s meeting, which included one more vote and a few housekeeping matters, ended on a humorous note.

“I have a speech I’d like to give. I have it here somewhere, but I can’t find it, and therefore, this meeting is adjourned,” Webber joked before adjourning the meeting with a strike of his gavel. “I have slides and everything.”

Follow Daniel J. Chacón on Twitter @danieljchacon.

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