A 22-acre property on South Meadows Road is on the precipice of being developed into nearly 100 affordable housing units, a charter school and a park.
Santa Fe County owns the parcel which, for years, has been designated as open space. Now, after county commissioners quietly approved a sale last year, local nonprofit Homewise, which specializes in helping lower- and middle-income residents get into homes, is awaiting approval from the city of Santa Fe to take ownership for a little less than $2 million.
But there’s a glaring complication: a structure built by the next-door neighbor with brick walls and a red roof.
The property sits right behind the Eberline plant, a former radioactive manufacturing facility owned by Thermo Fisher Scientific, which shut down operations in 2007. Since then, the state Environment Department found that Thermo Fisher violated several nuclear regulations, including misrepresenting the amount of radioactive nuclides left in the facility after closure.
As recently as 2016, an 80-gallon drum of radioactive material, secured with Velcro and duct tape, remained in the abandoned building at 5981 Airport Road, SFR reported.
The building was expected to be demolished in October 2020 but, nearly a year later, it’s still standing and the Environment Department has yet to set a firm new date—citing “uncertainties from COVID-19”—and inspectors haven’t finished testing for contaminants, Justin Garoutte, director of strategic initiatives for the department, writes in an email to SFR.
An ongoing survey of air, soil and surfaces by a licensed contractor under the oversight of the Environment Department’s Radiation Control Bureau has turned up two sites no larger than about one cubic foot with “slightly elevated levels of naturally occurring radioactive material,” Garoutte says.
Homewise and the county inked the sale agreement earlier this year after the County Commission approved disposal of the South Meadows property in July 2020. Homewise put down a deposit in May but the sale won’t go through until the city of Santa Fe approves the development plans.
The Planning Commission and the City Council must approve Homewise’s plans, which include rezoning requests to allow for housing including single-family homes, townhomes and condos for purchase, as well as 1.67 acres in between the housing units and the school for a park. The process generally takes six months, according to Lee Logston, a senior planner at the Land Use Department.
Part of the process is an early neighborhood notification meeting, which the city has set for next Wednesday evening.
Joanna Garcia, who lives in a surrounding neighborhood and is the former president of the Tiempos Lindos Homeowners Association, says she’ll attend virtually. She’s concerned that the Homewise development could disturb contaminants left over from the Eberline facility.
“Right now it’s a sleeping dragon,” Garcia says. “Who knows what it’s going to pull up, how toxic it’s going to be, the air, the water, the soil?”
On top of concerns about Eberline, Garcia and Helen Wunnick, a former area resident who advocated for more open spaces for the Southside before moving to Colorado, also take issue with the county’s sale of the property, which for two decades has been an open space that taxpayers funded through a bond.
“The southwest Santa Fe area is underserved,” Wunnick says. “Lots of people in the southwest went to meetings for this land. It was paid for as open space by taxpayers. Now we have a developer who wants easy pickings and sees this land as that.”
In response, county spokeswoman Carmelina Hart writes in an email that the county bought the land in 2001 with the intent of building a community park, but estimated construction costs exceeded the available budget. The city of Santa Fe annexed the area in 2014 and, four years later, top county officials met with Mayor Alan Webber and several city councilors to offer them the property for the purpose of building a park. Webber and the others said they were “not interested,” Hart tells SFR.
The appraised value of the property is about $1.8 million, and that’s the proposed sale price to Homewise. Proceeds will be used to fund future open space projects in the county, according to Hart.
Mike Loftin, chief executive officer of Homewise, tells SFR that the property’s proximity to Eberline is “definitely a concern because everyone thinks all of that stuff was contained at that building but, you know, it’s approximate so we’ll be doing soil tests and environmental tests to make sure there’s no problems there.”
Loftin says Homewise would inform potential residents of Eberline’s history.
Logston, on the other hand, says “there is no requirement [for the city] to inform residents of an adjacent property’s past uses, nor is there a process for something like that,” adding that Eberline’s history is “a matter of public record and presumably will be again if [SFR] writes about it.”
EARLY NEIGHBORHOOD NOTIFICATION: 5:30 pm Wednesday, Sept. 22. Online at santafe.primegov.com/public/portal
Editor’s note: This story has been updated to reflect that Hart reports Santa Fe County and Santa Fe city officials met about the land.