Zia Station Development Moves Forward

Planning Commission votes to recommend the City Council approve beleaguered project on Zia Road

The proposal for a mixed-use project that would span 21 acres on both sides of Zia Road, just west of St. Francis Drive, took a step forward on Thursday night.

The Santa Fe Planning Commission voted to recommend that the City Council approve the preliminary development plan, land use classifications and rezoning requirements to build 384 residential units, including townhomes, 84,000 square feet of office space and 36,000 square feet of restaurant or retail space on the site.

The commission voted to approve five changes. They 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 also voted 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.

Commissioners unanimously voted in favor of the two land use classification changes and rezoning to PUD. But Commissioners Janet Clow and Dominic Sategna balked at amending the corridor and ultimately the development plan. Those measures passed anyway, on a vote of 6-2.

Discussions around the expansive project took hours—commissioners raised myriad questions including several around a proposed U-turn at a crosswalk at West Zia Road and Galisteo Road. Commissioners also focused on traffic and pedestrian safety, affordable housing and the proposed height of the buildings.

Building height comprised a significant portion of the discussion.

Commissioners debated, at length, the issue of rezoning the development out of the South Central Highway Protection Corridor, which would allow for higher building heights. (One of the buildings in the new development would be three stories.)

"The whole issue of corridors is a whole issue that has been long standing in Santa Fe," Clow said. "Piecemealing it like this just doesn't seem appropriate because there are areas that this corridor is part of that are open spaces and this creates a sort of creeping precedent."

Sategna said he did not believe the proposals met the criteria that the commission has to consider when deciding on developments, saying it was "pushing the issue" to allow three stories in the area. He suggested that a city councilor should sponsor modifications to city ordinances to do away with the South Central Highway Protection Corridor altogether.

The commissioners applauded the affordable housing portion of the project. The developers, Zia Station LLC and SF Brown, opted in to the city's new ordinance, which allows for a mix of affordable units and a fee-in-lieu. The project would have 39 affordable units for 10 years and a fee-in-lieu of $148,814 to the Affordable Housing Trust Fund.

"If we don't use infill as a way to spread affordable housing throughout the city…the result is affordable housing goes in one certain area of town and it can create a lot of social injustice and it actually is dangerous for cities," Commissioner Pilar Faulkner said. "One of the things I like about his project is they're making an effort to put affordable housing in an infill scenario."

The proposed development, the first of its kind to use the city's new ordinance that allows a mix of affordable housing and fee-in-lieu, would be built in two phases if the City Council approves it. The first phase would include the construction of 14 townhomes and 244 apartments on the north side, 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 to the station for the New Mexico Rail Runner Express trains.

Jennifer Jenkins, an agent with JenkinsGavin, represented the developers at Thursday's meeting. During the discussion of how the development holds up to the original city-wide policy for land development created back in 1999 and the South-Central Highway Corridor District, set up in 1986, Jenkins pointed out that times have changed and the city is in desperate need of housing.

"Santa Fe has changed; Santa Fe's needs have changed; Santa Fe's priorities have changed," Jenkins said. "So maybe it is time to reconsider what we decided was important 35 years ago."

The City Council won't be able to consider this proposal until the Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law are adopted on March 4. Then a public hearing can be scheduled for a City Council meeting, which likely won't happen until April or May, according to Noah Berke, planner manager in the Land Use Department at the city.

Correction: An earlier version of this story included an incorrect date for a City Council hearing for the development.

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