Railyard Heights

Ten-lot development slated to replace Alvord Elementary School, leaving residents with lots of questions

The property adjacent to the Railyard housed both Alvord Elementary School and Tierra Encantada Charter School. (William Melhado)

Just off the Railyard, on Paseo del Peralta, a chain-link fence surrounds an old campus and abandoned playground—a jarring sight amid the sleek galleries that border the train depot turned gathering place.

The property, which was formerly home to Alvord Elementary School, closed in 2010 due to low enrollment after 80 years in operation. If a developer gets approval, the location that also hosted Tierra Encantada Charter School for six years will be home to new Railyard residents.

David Barker, of Barker Realty and owner of the property, hopes to divide the two lots bordering Paseo de Peralta and Camino de la Familia into a 10-lot subdivision. Barker is requesting an increase to zoning heights to allow for more dense construction on the side of the property closest to the Railyard—a section that formerly housed the school playground.

Nearby residents have concerns about the proposed designs.

In an early neighborhood notification meeting on Wednesday evening, residents questioned the proposed changes to height limitations and how the new development would alter the neighborhood’s atmosphere.

“Building high-end development in this part of town is going to further alienate Santa Feans and make it less affordable for people,” said Lucy Foma, a resident of the neighborhood, during the meeting. “There’s nothing to preclude people from buying these as investment properties and then leasing them out as short-term rentals or being second homes. And this is going to lose the character of this neighborhood.”

Barker hopes the city will amend the approved master plan to allow buildings up to 48 feet high on the property occupied by the playground. Current zoning regulations allow building heights up to 36 feet on some parts of the properties, though the majority of the two-lot property is only zoned for 28 feet high.

Daniel Esquibel, a senior planner with the City of Santa Fe, explained that to construct taller buildings the city’s Planning Commission would need to recommend approval of the amendments to the master plan, then get a sign-off from the governing body.

The property, which was previously classified as residential, was rezoned to Business Capitol District-Redevelopment Subdistrict, per Barker’s request when he purchased it from Santa Fe Public Schools in 2017. The new designation allows for both commercial and residential buildings.

While the western portion of the property would house the 10-lot subdivision, Barker hopes that the playground to the east will be zoned to allow buildings up to 48 feet tall. The plan for that part of the property remains unknown.

“We have no plan for a design there. What we’re asking on the playground is just to amend a height ordinance,” Barker told residents. “Then we would subsequently work on a design of what we would plan to put in there.”

Barker says he hopes to secure higher zoning limits to enable higher density buildings on that part of the property for either commercial or residential purposes.

“The change to the master plan in terms of height limitations very clearly speaks to significantly increasing the building massing on that,” said Bill Ramsey, a neighborhood resident, referring to the unknown size and shape of the undetermined building. “When you tell us that you don’t have any plans, then I would say, well maybe what you need to do is make some plans, develop a…concept and then create a standard that goes around that.”

Residents also expressed concern over a proposed exit for emergency vehicles connecting the property to Adolfo Street, which is a dead end road.

Adolfo Street, currently a dead end road, would become an emergency exit for the development if the current plan moves forward. (William Melhado)

When Barker’s real estate group purchased the 30,000-square-foot property from the school district for $2.55 million, the original design was to create housing and working spaces for artists and a commercial section.

Last April, the real estate firm decided to abandon the commercial component of the design and make the property purely residential. Barker intends to sell the homes built on the 10 lots.

“This project will be far less dense than what could be developed resulting in less traffic and congestion,” reads the meeting application submitted by the real estate group. During the meeting, Barker noted that the design was modified to address residents’ concerns about traffic by eliminating a previously included access point to the lots on Paseo.

Other residents questioned the possibility of including affordable housing.

Barker told attendees that instead of affordable housing, he would contribute a fee-in-lieu to the Affordable Housing Trust Fund, per the Santa Fe Homes Program Ordinance.

RoseMary Diaz (Santa Clara Pueblo), a resident of the neighborhood, tells SFR that she has concerns about the proposed height increases and the unaffordability of the future homes.

“It’s designed to keep us out and let other people who are moving here in. That’s the bottom line,” says Diaz, whose daughter attended Alvord Elementary, pointing to the recently built developments in the Railyard that attract wealthier residents than the surrounding neighborhood.

Diaz says she doesn’t oppose new housing. Rather, she hopes the final product incorporates “less invasive architecture—more inclusive, you know, tenant applications.”

Barker estimated that the next phase of the process, a public hearing before the Planning Commission, could happen as early as April.

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