Six topics and a little over seven hours of discussion later, the Santa Fe City Council issued preliminary approval for a proposed development on both sides of Zia Road near the train station on April 8. But last week's long-winded meeting, which followed weeks and, in some ways, even years of bitter debate was only a stepping stone in a process that has a lot of work ahead.
The Zia Station project is not yet completely in the clear to start—there are still votes for the developers to win if the project is to see a shovel in the ground on schedule, from the Planning Commission, other city committees and the City Council itself. Realigning Galisteo Road, installing new traffic lights and bringing each new construction phase before the Planning Commission call for additional public hearings.
Developers hope to have a plan for phase one construction in front of the commission by August or September, "moving dirt" before the end of the year and laying concrete by next spring, the developer's representative, Jennifer Jenkins of the firm JenkinsGavin Inc., tells SFR.
Each subsequent phase goes before the Planning Commission, though it can skip the governing body.
"Now we really start drilling down on all of the engineering, the terrain management, utilities, all of those details and any refinements to the site plan, refinements to the building design," Jenkins says. "All those types of things play into a final development plan submission."
Developers will now have to start a completely new and separate process to change the current alignment of Galisteo Road and set it farther back from St. Francis Drive as part of a traffic mitigation effort. Moving Galisteo Road will also be a public process with a chance for more public comment and has to come before the City Council and Planning Commission.
All in all, completing the project could take six to 10 years.
On April 8, councilors passed five different items, including zoning changes and the overall development plan—although not unanimously. City Councilor Carol Romero-Wirth voted against excluding the property from the much-discussed highway overlay (allowing the development to have three stories) and cast the only vote against the overall design of the project.
Councilors Chris Rivera and Signe Lindell were absent from the meeting.
The topics—including affordable housing, density, arroyo stabilization, traffic and pedestrian safety, building height and overview of the legalities of changing the zoning for the 21 acres under consideration—took several hours each for councilors to discuss and ask questions. Earlier in the week, the council held a standalone hearing for public comment. The height of the project, which includes one part that will be three stories, also took up a bulk of the meeting. Jenkins says that the project can't move forward without a third story in order to fit in affordable housing and create enough density to make a profit.
Councilor Romero-Wirth, who voted against several of the developer's proposals, said at the meeting that amending the entire overlay district along St. Francis Drive should be taken up by the city so that the public and the governing body would not have to deal with zoning issues for each new development in a "piecemeal way."
"It would also allow us to have much more public participation so that we get the buy-in and the understanding of, alright, if you want affordable housing, where do you want to put it? How are we going to afford it? It may require height because, as we're seeing with this project, you've got to have the density," Romero-Wirth said. "We've got to figure out what the trade-offs are; what we're willing to do. And maybe we don't want that. Maybe we don't want affordable housing. Maybe we want views."
Last week's approvals also came with some conditions, however: Short-term rentals are prohibited, and the developer must work with the city and utility companies to manage land erosion at the site as well as prepare the nearby arroyo for a potential 500-year storm event.
Developers Zia Station LLC and SF Brown plan to comply with the city's requirement for developers to provide affordable housing by both providing units and paying a fee.
This project's construction is planned in two phases. The first would include the construction of 14 townhomes and 244 apartments on the north side, as well as roadway improvements.
The second phase would include another 14 townhomes, 112 multi-family units, the office, restaurant and retail space, and parking.
"While we're finalizing plans and then going through the city review process on the phase one development plan…we'll probably have to go to a Public Works Committee, Finance Committee and then we go to the full City Council," Jenkins says of the Galisteo Road realignment. "When phase one goes to the Planning Commission for the final development approval, we would hope that the realignment of Galisteo was also on that same agenda. That would make a lot of sense, so you're not approving something out of context."