Many Casa Solana residents no doubt feel they lost a battle when the Santa Fe City Council voted on Sept. 30 to approve a general plan amendment and zoning changes to move forward a master plan for developing a portion of the city-owned Northwest Quadrant.
At the same time, many La Cienega and other Santa Fe County residents feel they achieved a victory when on Sept. 29 the Santa Fe Board of County Commissioners agreed to purchase 470 acres to prevent the Santa Fe Canyon Ranch development.
But both cases are victories—even for those who feel they lost—and, taken together, constitute a bellwether for land-use policy in the region.
In the first case, more than 700 homes may eventually be built on the remains of a Spanish land grant located northwest of downtown Santa Fe, but sloped toward the 599 bypass route. In the second case, nearly 200 homes will not be built on the vista extending out toward the rim of La Bajada. The city’s NWQ development is not technically infill, but it’s not so far off, surrounded as it is by other developments, and relative to extending farther out the south side of town. Santa Fe Canyon Ranch would have been sprawl, low-density luxury sprawl, but resource-wasting, eyesore sprawl nonetheless.
Certainly the recent approvals for the NWQ plan are being celebrated by the city staff and members of the privately contracted design team who have toiled on the master plan for the past few years. But amendments suggested by Councilors Rebecca Wurzburger and Matthew Ortiz, as well as Mayor David Coss—three politicians widely known to have favored the plan for some time—won important victories on behalf of opponents to NWQ development. Whatever happens with future development on the property, Casa Solana’s sewer lines are prohibited from being used, and a revised plan for ingress and egress must also be determined and approved before shovels turn dirt.
These two issues constitute the crux of neighborhood resistance to the NWQ plan, so the amendments ought to feel like a victory. The real question is why the politicians who Casa Solana residents viewed as enemies on the NWQ issue—Wurzburger, Ortiz and Coss—were the ones to step up to the plate and protect the neighborhood? District 1 Councilors Patti Bushee and Chris Calvert both forcefully opposed the plan—no doubt knowing the likely vote breakdown in advance (everybody else did)—thus winning nothing for the concerned voices from their district. Voters who promised to take their grievances to the polls ought to remember that fact.
What’s more, councilors who voted in favor of the NWQ plans have ensured that the potential development will be considered in the Department of Transportation’s 599 corridor study. That means, should the development go forward, road interchanges will be eligible for federal funding. That’s just responsible foresight, both practically and economically, and it doesn’t mean the development has to happen—only that Santa Fe won’t be screwed if it does. Additionally, an environmental impact study on groundwater flow will be conducted.
Santa Fe County’s move to purchase most of Santa Fe River Canyon’s buildable land—and a related deal in which the Trust for Public Land will attempt to facilitate a purchase of additional acreage that would end up under the purview of the Bureau of Land Management—could not have been better timed with the draft release of its new “sustainable land development plan.”
The county’s plan is chock-full of rhetoric about balancing open space, resources and private-property rights—not always agreeable bedfellows. But the county commissioners have taken a proactive stance that appears to put actions behind the words, even before a final version of the plan is approved. The draft version of the plan can be found at santafecounty.org.
The draft was heard by the County Development Review Committee on Oct.1 and will be revisited Nov. 12, after a succession of four public-input study sessions. The session closest to the City of Santa Fe is scheduled to take place at 6 pm, Oct. 14 in the Santa Fe Community College Board Room. The county commission hopes to have a workable plan in place by early 2010.
Both the county’s new land development plan and the city’s justification for the NWQ are ripe with similar rhetoric: affordable, diverse neighborhoods; maximum energy efficiency; mixed-use zoning; trails and open space; quality of life. Skeptics are right to wonder if the idealized pictures painted in the plans are achievable in practical execution. And the truth is, both plans will fall short. But the rhetoric isn’t new—it’s the stew that has been boiling here for a long time and it’s time to do something about it. Both plans represent the most progressive shift forward that the populace can tolerate.
In the end, the failures will be small and the successes will be crucial. In other words, everyone wins.