On Thursday, June 18, the City of Santa Fe’s Planning Commission took the proposed master plan for the Northwest Quadrant, turned it around, pushed it down on its knees and, without the courtesy of a blindfold, shot it in the back of the head.
Planning Commissioner Angela Bordegaray was the sole defender for a slate of variances related to terrain and zoning that would be required for the plan, as designed over the past four years, to go forward. But even Bordegaray joined her peers in unanimously striking down the requested zoning amendments, without which any development would be steered away from higher densities surrounded by open space and toward typical sprawl.
The master plan, despite the gang-style head wound inflicted by the Planning Commission, is not completely dead, but the notion of the City Council overturning such a dramatic rejection by the Planning Commission is almost certainly science fiction.
Housing and Community Development Director Kathy McCormick had no formal comment on the defeat, but indicated her staff would wait for direction from the council before bringing the same presentation to the ruling body at a meeting currently scheduled for August 2009.
Though an official agenda was not yet posted at press time, the council is likely to consider the go-ahead on issuing bonds for the purchase of the College of Santa Fe property at its Wednesday, June 24 meeting. As with the Northwest Quadrant, the issue of the city’s financial liability—especially in the current fiscal environment—is sure to be at the core of discussions. The din from citizens concerned that the city will be pitching money it doesn’t have into a black hole is loud indeed but, as is often the case, there’s very little fact behind the noise.
Laureate Education, Inc., the for-profit company that would assume college operations and a hefty lease payment, is in the game with full commitment. It has been signing contracts with former CSF faculty—contracts rumored to contain significantly better compensation than was offered by CSF—and is ready to fund start-up costs in advance of a completed land deal so that a fall semester can be initiated.
The state also would be a major player and intends to locate facilities of its own toward the school’s Siringo Road frontage. It would also take a lead role in incubating the “learning center” concept championed by Santa Fe Community College President Sheila Ortego, a strategy that would bring facets of the state’s best higher education programs under a single collaborative tent located on a Santa Fe campus.
In other words, the city, like any intelligent investor, is buying an income property in a down market. The council is unwilling to issue bonds without confidence that its own coffers will never be raided for the debt service—so just pipe down, people.
Opponents of the Northwest Quadrant have been effective with vocal representation at public meetings, but they can only wish they were as organized as folks angered by development near the base of Sun Mountain. In a couple of short months, a coalition called Save Sun Mountain has gone from being appalled at a subdivision slated for property belonging to the descendents of former New Mexico Supreme Court Justice John T “Jack” Watson to helping structure a deal with the Trust for Public Land that would see the majority of the property continue as open space and trails for community use.
Although critics of Doug McDowell’s proposed Mirasol project were typically reactionary—falsely claiming the development would blanket the side of Sun Mountain with big houses and ruin the Santa Fe landscape for everyone—their measured petition and fundraising has resulted in an engaged process that could result in a real asset. It might be NIMBYism, but it’s solution-based NIMBYism; add up all the factors and fighting the development creates community value.
Adding value is at the heart of the issue in all three of these cases. In the Northwest Quadrant, a vocal minority opposition has drowned out legitimate points of concern and negotiation with rabid, unfounded accusations of sprawl and “developer giveaways” and has thus wounded an earnest and visionary project aimed at genuine benefit to the city as a whole.
Similar dangers exist in considering the purchase of the CSF property. If fears of debt exposure override the mayor’s plan to salvage higher education in central Santa Fe, factors such as workforce development, attrition of youth, creative culture and education as a tenet of a just, successful society will have been sacrificed in the name of momentary panic.
There’s a lesson for both the NWQ and CSF in the civil dialogue and values-based math that has been thus far applied to the Sun Mountain case.