In response to outcry from Southside residents, affordable housing developer Homewise has changed its plans for a hotly-contested, county-owned open space, ditching a charter school in favor of more residential units and a larger than originally proposed community park.
A planning consultant for Homewise says the new proposal is the local nonprofit’s attempt to meet two needs: affordable housing and parks on the Southside.
But some residents say it’s not good enough, and they remain staunchly against developing the open space they contend is a rare and essential commodity where they live.
The Santa Fe County Commission quietly approved the disposal of the property on South Meadows Road in July 2020—without the knowledge of the County Open Lands, Trails and Parks Advisory Committee.
Here’s the quick version of how it went down:
County officials say they made several attempts to give the city the land before commissioners—excluding Commissioner Rudy Garcia, who recused himself—unanimously approved the disposal.
At a joint meeting in June 2017, Deputy County Attorney Rachel Brown said that the county was “prepared” to hand off ownership and “there are funds available for park improvements and there could be discussion regarding whether those funds should move over to the City for that purpose,” according to minutes from the meeting.
The County Commission passed a resolution about five months later calling for another joint meeting to discuss, among other annexation details, transfer of ownership.
County Manager Katherine Miller and Commissioner Anna Hansen claim they offered the property to the city for the purpose of building a park at a meeting in May 2018. Mayor Alan Webber told SFR he didn’t recall receiving such an offer.
Fast forward to this year.
The county entered a sale agreement with Homewise in May, with finalization pending approval of the plans by the city Planning Commission and the City Council. Homewise hasn’t yet submitted an application to the city.
Since residents of the surrounding neighborhoods got word of the sale last summer, they’ve been organizing to halt the development before the city approves it.
Jennifer Jenkins, whose land use management company is doing consulting work for Homewise, says the nonprofit is trying to find middle ground.
“This whole plan has changed dramatically strictly based on the feedback we got,” Jenkins tells SFR.
Homewise’s original plan included 95 for-sale, affordable housing units, a new public charter school called Thrive Community School and a 1.67-acre park that would’ve sat in the middle.
The school is now out and the revised plan includes 161 units and a 5-acre park.
Jenkins says at least 20% of the units must be affordable, but Homewise generally aims for a rate of 40%. She would not say whether that’s the goal for the proposed South Meadows development.
As for the park, Homewise hopes that the city will agree to maintain it, but if that doesn’t work out, the homeowners association would take responsibility.
“We’re trying to hit all the things that are most important,” Jenkins says. “Obviously affordable housing is critically important and a really beautiful park amenity for this neighborhood is equally important and we’re trying to provide all of that.”
Marlow Morrison, president of the Tiempos Lindos Homeowners Association, doesn’t see things the same way.
She says Southsiders, who take the brunt of development in Santa Fe, deserve to keep the sprawling open space, home to community-maintained walking trails and abundant wildlife.
“I see that Homewise does want to try and work with the community, but I feel like the truth is that simply as a developer, they can’t really give us what we want,” Morrison says. “No matter what Homewise offers us, it’s going to be a loss for us.”
She adds that she and other residents who oppose the development aren’t against affordable housing.
“It’s super unfortunate that all of these resources that we need are battling for this one piece of property,” Morrison tells SFR. “The hardest part is that we can have affordable housing somewhere else and we do…We have our fair share of affordable housing and new development in this neighborhood. What we don’t have is our fair share of open space and we’ll lose it. It’ll be gone forever if it gets developed.”
The need for outdoor spaces in the area is clear.
If a park were to be built on the land, it would serve 2,600 people, almost all of whom don’t live within a 10-minute walk of any other public open space or park, according to a mapping tool from the Trust for Public Land, a national nonprofit that’s helped build thousands of parks and pass ballot measures for public funding of such projects.
Kristen Weil, manager of urban analytics at the trust, says nearly every factor accounted for by the mapping tool, from population density to mental health, points to the South Meadows area as a high priority for a park, particularly when compared to the rest of the city.
“Pretty much across every metric that we look at for park priority areas, it scores high,” Weil tells SFR. “Traditionally, low income and people of color are underserved communities and therefore investments in parks are especially important in those neighborhoods.”
Homewise’s change of plans requires another early neighborhood notification meeting, slated for next week.
EARLY NEIGHBORHOOD NOTIFICATION: 5:30 pm Thursday, Dec. 9. Online at santafe.primegov.com/public/portal