Homewise and Santa Fe County closed the sale of 22 acres on South Meadows Road on Friday morning, leaving the city to decide whether the location will be the site of a new affordable housing development and park.
The nonprofit organization wants to build a 161-unit housing complex on the property, along with a 6-acre park. The May 2021 purchase agreement had left the door open for the developer to secure land use and zoning rights before finalizing the sale, but the Santa Fe Planning Commission has punted that decision multiple times.
Homewise had the option to terminate the deal, which had a closing date of April 30, due to the delay in the zoning application, or it could have tried negotiating for an extension. Rather than take either of those routes, the developer decided to bank on its proposal meeting muster with city officials.
CEO Mike Loftin says Homewise is taking a risk by going through with the purchase for $1.7 million, but decided to spend the money because he wanted the city “to be held accountable.” Officials from the county and the nonprofit signed the closing documents Friday after Homewise informed them of the intent to carry through the purchase in a letter dated Wednesday.
“What happened in the Planning Commission has not been a fair process,” Loftin says. “If we’re going to deal with the issues of Santa Fe, especially affordable housing, we need a Land Use Department and Planning Commission that is more functional than it is.”
Neighborhood residents have raised concerns about the sale, hoping the land designated as open space would be transformed into a public park. The county used public open space money to buy the property in 2001 and made that promise, then decided in 2020 to cash out on the land. The state Auditor’s Office launched an investigation into that process, but as of Wednesday there was not yet a conclusion.
In three straight meetings, the Planning Commission tabled Homewise’s proposal to rezone the property, citing concerns that it didn’t meet the city’s standards. Most recently, the commission postponed its consideration to give city staff 60 to 90 days to present conditions of the property.
Homewise argued that housing was the best use for the land given the region’s well-documented shortage of low-priced homes.
Commissioner Pilar Faulkner said at the April 7 meeting there was “no evidence” the city is in a housing crisis. However, Loftin says the commission was aware of the deadline on the county purchase agreement and was simply just trying to run out the clock.
“They didn’t want to vote on this so they just kept kicking the can down the road and came up with his completely absurd reason to postpone—that we need to study whether we have an affordable housing problem or not,” he says. “You would have to be living on another planet to not know we have an affordable housing crisis in Santa Fe.”
Homewise believes it’s entitled to a vote by the Planning COmmission, which can recommend approval or denial for the rezoning request. Ultimately, it will be up to the Santa Fe City Council.
County trucks were spotted outside the property Friday morning removing signage about its open space status and surrounding neighbors were not happy. Members of the South Side Open Space Facebook group are already considering organizing a protest.
“I really don’t want this to be the end of it,” wrote Odalis Pacheco.
In January, Marlow Morrison, president of the Tiempos Lindos Homeowners Association, wrote a letter to the Planning Commission citing loss of open space in a City Council district that only has 45 acres of public recreation areas, nearly half of which was South Meadows property.
“Chopping up our parks is not a reasonable or sustainable approach,” the letter states. “We need solid policy to deal with affordable housing, a persistent and long-term issue, rather than a piecemeal approach. And the need for affordable housing should not be used to justify bypassing all other considerations.”