Kicking the Can

Planning Commission punts vote again on proposed South Meadows development

The Santa Fe Planning Commission on Thursday shelved a decision to rezone property on South Meadows Road to allow for an affordable housing complex, marking the third straight meeting commissioners have punted a decision.

Homewise, a nonprofit affordable housing developer, wants to build 161 single-family units on the 22-acre parcel, which has for decades been owned by Santa Fe County and designated as open space. To move forward, Homewise needs approval from the commission, which heard more than five hours of public debate on the property’s use last month.

Thursday’s deliberation lasted less than 30 minutes.

Commissioner Pilar Faulkner made a motion “that’s going to make everyone unhappy” to once again postpone the case. She said the commission is being asked to set a “dangerous precedent” of redesignating community spaces into residential areas. Faulkner also wants the City of Santa Fe’s Planning and Land Use Department staff to present studies to determine whether the approach is “absolutely necessary” for addressing housing needs.

“There’s no evidence of any study that says we are in a [housing] crisis,” Faulkner said. “Most of the information we rely on is anecdotal.”

SFR has documented the city’s housing shortage in dozens of stories over the last several years, including, for example, a report from January showing that the median price for a single-family home had skyrocketed past half a million dollars while inventory continues to plummet. The Santa Fe Association of Realtor’s newest quarterly report, issued this week, shows county median home prices increased by 23% from $650,000 in 2021 to $796,580 this quarter.

Homewise’s planned construction of townhouses, condos and single-family homes, in addition to a 6.3-acre park, is contingent on the city’s willingness to rezone the property. Staff with the Land Use Department originally had recommended the commission deny the rezoning request because the developer failed to include plans for a park.

Faulkner said she doesn’t think Homewise’s plan to build a small park meets the Planning Commission’s standards for approval.

Affordable housing “is definitely a need” in Santa Fe, said Commissioner Daniel Pava, but so is access to park land and other quality-of-life issues, particularly on the Southside.

“I can’t imagine if somebody wanted to come up Canyon Road and turn Patrick Smith Park into a housing development and, yet, we look at that differently for whatever reasons—because of demographic differences,” he said.

Commissioners raised concerns about the city’s ability to finance a new park on the South Meadows lot, should they deny Homewise’s request. County officials claim they offered the property to the city in May of 2018 as the entities were navigating the city’s annexation of the area, but they have been unable to produce proof of the offer. And Mayor Alan Webber couldn’t recall such a proposal. Former city councilor Roman “Tiger” Abeyta told SFR last fall he was interested in the city purchasing the property to turn it into a park, but planning commissioners aren’t sure the city is willing to spend money on a new recreational area.

“It wasn’t designated by the city as a park; it was designated by the county as a park and I think the city accepted it as designated as a park,” said Janet Clow, Planning Commission vice-chair. “The land is still owned by the county and I don’t think the city has any intent at this point in time to build a park.”

Clow added that Swan Park on Jaguar Drive is “fairly close” to the proposed area and that resources are going toward expanding that area. The decision at hand, she said, was between waiting years for the city to accrue funds to develop a park or compromising so that a housing complex and a smaller park are created sooner.

In the $1.7 million purchase agreement, Homewise has the right to terminate the deal if it cannot come up with the necessary zoning and development rights for the organization’s intended use of the property. The last day to get the approval would be May 6, although the county and Homewise could negotiate an extension.

The commission ultimately postponed the South Meadows rezoning consideration, giving city staff no less than 60 days and no more than 90 days to present conditions for commissioners to consider.

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