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Santa Fe City Council clears way for north-side subdivision

September 28, 2018

A controversial new subdivision proposed for a ridgetop north of downtown Santa Fe can move forward after the City Council on Wednesday night dismissed an appeal from opponents of the development.

The councilors’ move to reject the appeal follows a five-hour hearing last month in which the developers and opponents debated the proposed Estancias del Norte subdivision into the early morning hours.

That hearing — called “exhaustive and exhausting” by Mayor Alan Webber at the time — resulted in a postponement and a request from councilors that the two sides work toward a negotiated agreement. None was reached, however.

Follow-up deliberations Wednesday were more succinct, wrapping up in 80 minutes, as councilors peppered city staff and developers with questions about erosion and stormwater concerns on the steep hilltop terrain where the subdivision will sit. They also engaged in a debate about parliamentary procedure as one councilor sought to cut off all further discussion of the already heavily discussed issue.

The preliminary subdivision plat for Estancias del Norte includes 49 lots on 40.5 acres on the north side of Hyde Park Road.

Councilors and Webber voted 6-3 to shoot down the appeal, brought by a nearby neighborhood association and a few residents. Councilors Signe Lindell, Chris Rivera and Renee Villarreal voted against the rejection; Lindell and Villarreal represent the northern area of the city that includes the proposed subdivision.

Villarreal said she felt the city’s escarpment ordinance had been inconsistently applied in the area and she was concerned about the potential for additional housing units, such as casitas, on the lots, increasing the number of residents on the ridgetop.

“There are too many open doors to allow for other units,” she said.

The Greater Callecita Neighborhood Association and a few other residents appealed the city Planning Commission’s decision to approve the plat in March, arguing the land is not suitable for intensive development. Downhill neighbors contend insufficient drainage plans for the new development will leave them vulnerable to flooding and increased erosion.

According to a review by the City Attorney’s Office, the appeal was broad and unwieldy. The appeal mentions an “unlawful and biased soil study” and “unlawful steep roads,” among other items of contention.

But appellants who spoke Wednesday night maintained the developers would leave downhill homeowners soaking wet by putting the onus for stormwater maintenance in the ridgetop subdivision on a forthcoming homeowners association. One appellant said the home occupancy rate in the Hyde Park Road area is too low to ensure homeowners there will be responsible association members and neighbors.

“Twenty years from now, we’re all gone, city staff are all gone, but the [downhill] residents still remain — and then they’re dealt a 100-year flood, and they have damage they warned us about,” Councilor Rivera said, summing up some opponents’ anxieties.

Developers, meanwhile, insisted homeowners in the new subdivision will be subject to covenants requiring diligence when it comes to drainage system maintenance.

Councilor JoAnne Vigil Coppler moved to reject the appeal almost immediately.

Villarreal, who said she had lingering questions for staff, made an unsuccessful appeal to Vigil Coppler to amend her motion. But Villarreal was able to persuade other councilors to reject the motion and allow for further discussion.

The flurry of parliamentary debate reflected the convoluted fashion in which the appeal was decided across two hearings one month apart.

“I don’t think this was a very clear process,” Villarreal said.

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