After nearly six hours of impassioned debate over a hillside development overlooking Fort Marcy Park near downtown, the Santa Fe City Council and mayor postponed deciding the dispute for almost a month, and instead asked two sides that appeared at loggerheads to try to work together toward a solution.
In a 6-3 vote, the governing body delayed until September 26 a decision on an appeal of the Planning Commission's approval for the proposed Estancias del Norte subdivision, a 40-acre tract north of Hyde Park Road where developers hope to build 49 homes.
Councilors Harris, Ives and Vigil Coppler voted against Signe Lindell's postponement, saying they were ready to vote on the appeal during the meeting.
The proposal has alarmed neighbors who live below the relatively steep slopes that separate their homes from the Estancias del Norte and Haciendas del Mirasol developments. At issue is stormwater runoff from new home sites.
Like many Santa Fe stories, it comes with some history.
In 1981, the area had been master planned as part of the Estancia Primera development, and the city passed an ordinance limiting what kind of building could take place on the property. The issue came up once more in 1995, when the city again denied plans to build.
Developer Ernie Romero, a lifelong Santa Fean who now owns the property, maintains two independent engineering studies show he can do it without flooding the neighborhoods below. The Planning Commission has approved the preliminary design, which also takes into account rules about where homes can be sited along ridgelines, but the Greater Callecitas Neighborhood Association appealed the panel's decision to the governing body.
Dozens of residents lined up to speak about the project during a marathon hearing Wednesday night and Thursday morning. The vast majority of them voiced concerns, showing pictures and videos of flooded streets after recent torrential rainstorms and a roaring Arroyo de la Piedra just behind their homes.
"The land on which it is platted is topographically unsuitable for the development that is being proposed," argued Tom Banner, an attorney for the neighborhood group.
Banner called Chris Philips, a civil engineer, who told the council that developing some of the lots will likely increase erosion on the property and impact the neighborhoods below. Soil conditions didn't seem to have changed since the last time the city denied development in the mid '90s, Philips testified.
Romero argued that the two independent reviews had guided "the most comprehensive and complete set of drainage plans, I'm told, in the history of the city of Santa Fe."
"We can talk tech terms of drainage," Romero told the governing body, "but we meet or exceed the code. And we exceed it by 200 percent."
Former City Councilor Patti Bushee was the last member of the public to make her thoughts known.
"I want to say this development gives new meaning to 'not in my backyard'," Bushee said. "Nobody stood up and said, 'I don't want to see this, it's ruining my view.' They literally don't want this in their backyard."
The former councilor recommended holding off on approving the development and instead finding something closer to a middle ground that would address the most serious concerns while also allowing Romero to develop at least part of the property he bought in 2011.
Most of the homes will be pricier than many Santa Feans can afford, though city staff said 10 of the 49 homes will be classified as affordable. The city's inclusionary zoning rules require developers to build a portion of any new development to affordable standards. While construction plans aren't required to be finalized at this stage, Romero told city staff he plans to build in two stages.
Many of those who spoke during the nearly 6-hour hearing that wound on past 1:00am voiced concerns that the homes built above them would be second or third homes owned by wealthy out-of-towners who didn't much care how the people below them would be impacted.
Romero said he planned to seed a maintenance fund for the development with $10,000 and assess a monthly fee on each lot owner to help cover erosion control costs. The developments covenant also prohibits short-term rentals.
Councilor Signe Lindell worried that wouldn't be enough to address potentially catastrophic impacts from heavy rains and suggested $50,000 might be a more realistic initial investment from Romero, as well as twice-yearly inspections of ponds, check dams and other water control features.
Councilors also wondered if new city stormwater regulations might render their decision unwise in the course of a few months, though city staff couldn't pin down an exact date.
After wrapping the no-decision on Estancias del Norte, the mayor and council decided to tackle another controversial development with a long history, ultimately approving it with a unanimous vote after another hour of discussion and public comment.
Tierra Concepts, a development company that four years ago tried to build 450 units of apartment homes on nearly 20 acres of property near the traditional village of Agua Fria, has downsized its plans and come back to the city with a proposal for a 120-unit apartment complex southwest of Frenchy's Field along Agua Fria Road.
The initial proposal was downsized to 399 units, but still finally rejected by the city in 2015. Tierra Concepts is operating under the name Blue Buffalo, LLC for the project.
The new two-story project would be called the Acequia Lofts and would distribute the apartments in half a dozen or so buildings across six acres.
Neighbors were concerned about increased pedestrian traffic across Agua Fria, though developers cited a traffic study that they said would allow them to safely build a crosswalk across the road roughly equidistant from faraway stoplights at Osage Avenue and Siler Road.
Others complained about potential traffic through the La Cieneguita neighborhood, which is across the street from the entrance to the proposed lofts. Residents there say drivers often use both the neighborhood and streets on either side to cut between Cerrillos and Agua Fria Roads, bringing heavy traffic to neighborhood roads that weren't designed to handle the loads.
The development utilized fee-in-lieu rules for multifamily housing, which allows developers to pay money into the city's Affordable Housing Trust Fund instead of forcing them to build affordable housing units in their construction projects.