The City Council’s April 8 vote to approve a massive multi-use development project that would span 21 acres on both sides of Zia Road at the intersection of St. Francis Drive now faces a legal challenge.
On Thursday, the Candlelight Neighborhood Association filed an appeal in state District Court.
The neighborhood association, which represents homeowners along the southwest side of where the proposed project would be built, has vocally opposed the Zia Station development since the start. In previous city meetings, association members raised concerns that the 384-unit project would cause additional traffic, block mountain views, bring excessive activity and potential crime to the area, and ruin the overall “character” of the city.
In the appeal, the neighborhood association claims that the city’s “quasi-judicial” process used to review land use applications favors developers and deprives residents of due process rights.
“It is clear to us that developers are granted far more access to decision-makers than the average citizen, as well as special advantages, such as the use of visual aids. This is unjust. We are taking this action on behalf of both the citizens at large and the majority of residents within our neighborhood,” association President Ed “Aku” Oppenheimer said in a news release.
The appeal also raises objections to the City Council’s decision to remove the project from the South-Central Highway Corridor ordinance, passed in 1986, which restricts building heights to less than three stories along St. Francis Drive. Zia Station also required the city to rezone the northern 12.1-acre parcel from low density residential to high density residential and rezone a portion of the southern parcel to transitional mixed-use.
In a presentation during the approval process, the developer’s representative, Jennifer Jenkins of the firm JenkinsGavin Inc, said the 35-year-old ordinance no longer represents the city’s best interests now that the city’s population has grown substantially and faces a desperate shortage of affordable housing.
She said the development would need to be three stories high in order to provide some affordable housing and still turn a profit. Zia Station plans to take advantage of a recent change in the city’s affordable housing policies that allows the developers to provide a mix of a fee-in-lieu payment and affordable units.
The proposed affordable units would be 10% of the total and would remain under price restrictions for 10 years. It would be the first development in the city to provide any affordable units onsight.
The Candlelight Neighborhood Association claims Santa Fe’s rules incentivize developers not to provide permanent affordable housing, and that the city gave the Zia Station developers “special treatment” because of their proposal to provide some affordable units onsight.
“It is not reasonable for a city to claim to be providing housing affordably when it is only temporary and requires the city to ignore five other land use ordinances.” said Oppenheimer in the news release.