Housing Project Vote Stalls

City Planning Commission postpones decision on Zia Station development proposal

After a five-hour meeting on Thursday evening, the Santa Fe Planning Commission postponed a vote that would have pushed forward a preliminary development plan for a mixed-use project proposed to span 21 acres on both sides of Zia Road, just west of St. Francis Drive. The matter is now set for the commission agenda Feb. 18.

During several hours of public comment, dozens of Santa Feans—many from the abutting Candlelight Neighborhood Association—spoke out against the proposal from Zia Station LLC and SF Brown, citing safety, traffic and affordable housing concerns.

Antoinette Shook, secretary of the association, said she did not think the developers' plan for 39 affordable units for 10 years and a fee-in-lieu of $148,814 to the Affordable Housing Trust Fund was in line with the spirit of affordable house rules.

"This is not a true following of an affordable housing program," Shook said. She also voiced concerns about the new buildings blocking her mountain views and comprising her privacy.

City Land Use staff who reviewed the proposal recommended that the Planning Commission approve all aspects of the project.

Several Santa Feans did speak up in favor of the development—most describing themsleves parents who want to see a growing economy for themselves and their children's future.

"Density is good, it's good for business," Tai Bixby said during the meeting.

After the public comment, commissioners listed questions they had for the developers to consider before the next meeting, including another look at the flow of traffic and pedestrian safety near the Zia and St. Francis intersection, as well as the height of the three-story buildings that concerned many residents.

"From the community there's been a lot of discussion that we're a small town, that we want to stay a small town, that kind of concept," Commissioner Pilar Faulkner said. "If staff can kind of give us some indications at what point a town becomes a city and…that initiates a certain kind of thinking around planning, including how much housing you need."

"If you don't mind rolling up your sleeves and staying late at night this is a fun project because it really embraces a lot of the issues that are facing Santa Fe right now," Vice Chair Mark Hogan said. "In general, I think it's a great place for density because of its location and multi-modal aspects. But there are still a lot of questions…the traffic is still not making sense. Maybe for the next meeting [it would] be helpful to give us some scenarios and show us how it works."

The ideas most under fire at the meeting center on requested changes to the city's zoning and land use classifications for the property to allow 384 residential units, 84,000 square feet of office space and 36,000 square feet of restaurant or retail space to be built. The development plan, which encompasses a northern and southern parcel, was also under consideration.

The five changes for the commission to consider include classifying the northern 12.1-acre parcel from low density residential to high density residential and 2.2 acres in the southern parcel from low density residential to transitional mixed-use.

The commission will also need to decide on whether to change the zoning for the entire northern parcel to planned unit development, or PUD, as well as a request to remove the property from the South-Central Highway Corridor District. Rezoning the properties out of the Highway Corridor District would allow for two-and three-story buildings. Before developers bought the property, it was home to an industrial pumice plant.

The beleaguered project, which would be built in two phases and which has been in the drafting stages off and on since before 2008, would need approval from the City Council after the Planning Commission. The first phase would include the construction of 14 townhomes and 244 apartments on the north sides, as well as roadway improvements to ease traffic congestion at Zia Road and St. Francis and a fenced dog park that is accessible from the Rail Trail.

The second phase would include another 14 townhomes, 112 multi-family units and the office, restaurant and retail space, as well as a one-story parking garage and a subterranean parking structure providing over 500 parking spaces on a 8.9 acre-parcel heading south toward I-25 and adjacent the station for the New Mexico Rail Runner Express trains.

Jennifer Jenkins, an agent with JenkinsGavin, represented the developers, Zia Station LLC and SF Brown, at Tuesday's meeting.

Flicking through artist renditions of what the project could look like, Jenkins spent an hour both describing the project and trying to prove it aligns with the development history of Santa Fe as well as the city's planning principles. She said "everything" about past development in Santa Fe was "leading us to where we are today."

In the firm's examples of what the development would look like, the train is drawn bright yellow in the corner as it pulls into the station in front of the residential and retail components of the development. For now, that's a dream many would like to see become real—the train line has been closed to passengers since March, following state COVID-19 health orders.

Zia Station is the only stop on New Mexico's commuter train line that's built on private land.

"It's about beauty and beauty takes many forms…Santa Fe is known for its good architecture," Jenkins says. "We really want to celebrate that."

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