Housing Station

Plans are still preliminary, but proposal likely to include hundreds of apartments around Zia Station

The owners of the land around the Zia Road train station say it's almost time to launch another effort at redeveloping the site.

Although the property has been largely vacant for the last 20 years, developer Merritt Brown tells SFR that during the next decade the market will likely support townhouses and apartments there along with some commercial buildings and a parking garage.

The area has a complex history: Brown's firm, SF Brown, a partner in the property ownership entity of Zia Station LLC, negotiated the purchase of 20 acres along the railroad tracks west of St. Francis Drive on both sides of Zia Road in pieces between 1999 and 2007, including one sale conditioned on demolition of a pumice plant that once stood there. The state agreed to build one of its Rail Runner Express stations on the site in 2008, but it didn't open to riders until 2017.

On a parallel track, in 2004, SF Brown and partners secured general plan amendments from the city to change the designated uses on portions of the property and, in 2008, drew up a plan for businesses and homes. The project then stalled in the face of economic downturn and other conditions.

Now, in order to move ahead, Zia Station LLC needs to apply to the city to establish zoning in the whole tract. After that, the builders don't plan on seeking variances to what would be allowed under the city code.

"We want to operate by the rules the city has established," says Merritt Brown, one of the project principles. "And what happened 10 years ago is not even really relevant."

The developers hired JenkinsGavin consultants to get a sense from area residents of how neighborhood associations might react to the proposal. Representatives of the adjacent Candlelight Neighborhood Association didn't respond to SFR's request for an interview by press time.

The first formal step for the project is a preliminary development plan, and Zia Station LLC expects to take that step in the late spring or early summer. Formal Early Neighborhood Notification meetings would be required after that.

"We've learned a lot from the discussions and we've got information from the current market: What has changed, and what's the highest and best use," says Jennifer Jenkins, agent for the developer.

The goal for now, she says, is to seek approval from the city to build a prescribed amount of homes and commercial development, then refine those numbers downward. Rough calculations put the number at 280 apartments and 17,000 square feet of commercial space on the north side of Zia and 120 apartments, a row of townhouses, and 10,000 square feet of commercial space along with a parking garage on the south side.

"We would get zoning for a maximum intensity for different uses and then have flexibility in a final development plan," Jenkins tells SFR.

The proposed development would also likely entail moving the intersection of Galisteo Road further west at Zia, Brown says. Traffic studies are under way to evaluate the potential impact on several nearby intersections, including the other end of Galisteo where it hits Rodeo—near the 188-unit Broadstone apartments that have not yet opened.

Zia Station is the only stop on New Mexico's commuter train line that's built on private land. It's a kiss-and-ride station now. Yet, the plan has always been for the landowners to add adjacent development.

Tony Sylvester, planning and development manager for the Rio Metro transit district that operates the train on behalf of the state, says the ridership at the station grew by 14,110 trips between fiscal years '18 and '19, for a total ridership of 17,350. With parking for riders, those numbers could go even higher.

“We are always looking at the operation of a transit system as not just the transportation role the system can provide…other than the private automobile, but it’s also trying to promote efficient land use and economic development,” he says.
Though he notes Rio Metro doesn’t have any inside information about the proposal and did not have a position, Sylvester says it’s likely such a development would increase ridership for several reasons. 
“We always consider these [as] local land use decisions, and clearly they are,” he says. “While we believe that doing some development near the station would create additional ridership for us and…help employees or people who live there leave their car at home and use transit to get to where they need, that generalization is probably about as far as I can go.”
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