Traveling on South Meadows Road, dozens of multi-colored ribbons fluttering in the wind catch the eye.
Southside residents have in recent weeks tied them to the fence lining the road as a sign of opposition to the proposed development of the 22-acre property across the way.
Affordable housing developer Homewise entered a sales agreement with Santa Fe County last year with plans to build 161 for-sale units and a 5-acre park on the land, which the county purchased two decades ago for open space. City approval is required before development can begin.
Despite a swelling community uproar, it’s unclear whether city officials are interested in nixing the proposed development and maintaining the property as public land. Meanwhile, a county spokeswoman tells SFR the county is “committed” to the agreement.
The case was set to go before the city Planning Commission on Thursday, but Homewise requested a postponement, moving the review to March 3.
“This is just part of the normal process,” Jennifer Jenkins, whose land use management company is doing consulting work for Homewise, tells SFR. “We’re in our process with the city’s review and we’re just adding some additional information and clarification to the application.”
The short version: County officials say they offered the property to the city on multiple occasions, most recently at an informal meeting in May 2018. Mayor Alan Webber has claimed he doesn’t recall such an offer.
Former city councilor Roman “Tiger” Abeyta represented District 3, where the property in question is located, before losing reelection in November and was a vocal advocate of more dedicated outdoor space for the Southside. Abeyta told SFR last fall that he was interested in the city buying the land from the county and turning it into a park.
Asked if he shares that interest, Councilor Lee Garcia, who unseated Abeyta in the last election, says: “It’s a touchy subject because it’s a land-use case which has a lot of legalities to it. Balancing between representing your constituents and your district and being a councilor presiding over cases such as this, quasi-judicial, you have to just be careful.”
Councilors Signe Lindell and Jamie Cassutt—who are representing the city in annexation negotiations with the county—both declined to comment, writing over text that South Meadows, as Garcia noted, is a land-use case that will eventually go before the City Council. That means the councilors are forbidden from speaking publicly about the matter, they tell SFR.
Nearby residents say they’ve received similar responses from their elected representatives.
“It’s super frustrating,” says Marlow Marrison, president of the neighboring Tiempos Lindos Homeowners Association. “It brings into question the whole process when citizens have valid concerns and we’re not allowed to talk to our city officials because it’s part of a judicial situation. Who are we supposed to talk to?”
Even if the city were interested in taking over the South Meadows property, it seems that’s not an option, at least for now.
“The county is committed to honoring its contractual obligations,” county spokeswoman Carmelina Hart tells SFR. “Accordingly, the county is not discussing or otherwise exploring hypothetical scenarios concerning the South Meadows property in the event the purchase agreement terminates because the necessary approvals are not obtained from the city.”
Commissioner Anna Hansen, who represents the district the property is in and has said the county offered the land to the city at the 2018 meeting, didn’t respond to a request for comment.
Homewise has agreed to pay $1.79 million to the county if it secures development approval for the parcel.