The Santa Fe City Planning Commission on Thursday night gave its stamp of recommendation on a proposed affordable housing development in a Southside neighborhood.
The commission’s unanimous vote hands the final decision to the City Council on whether a long time open space near South Meadows Road and Rufina Street will become 161 single-family houses, condos, townhomes and a 6-acre park.
The council has a special meeting scheduled for Nov. 30, but an agenda has yet to be published.
The commission’s thumbs-up marks an incremental win for Homewise, the non-profit home-builder seeking to build what it calls “Los Prados.”
After hours of public testimony, Commission Chair Janet Clow said she felt Homewise worked with neighboring communities to come up with a plan that mostly addresses their needs.
“Compromise is really important, and it appears that there’s been a lot of compromise, for a good period of time,” Clow said just before voting to recommend the project. “And let’s hope that based on this hearing, there can be some healing and some acceptance of what the greater need of the community is.”
Ahead of the vote, the panel heard from representatives from Homewise and the firm managing the project.
Johanna Gilligan, a senior director of community development for Homewise, presented figures showing what she called a “steep upward trajectory” of the cost of homeownership and rent in Santa Fe.
“It’s really no wonder that we have almost 40% of people who work in Santa Fe now living elsewhere, places like Rio Rancho, and commuting in regularly, which we know is exacting a toll on both commuters and the environment,” Gilligan told the commission. “So, it’s with this backdrop and punishing housing market in mind that we have planned for Los Prados.”
Opponents, however, said their concerns go beyond just affordable housing and rest more with eliminating access to what was once open space.
More than a dozen attendees who planned to speak against the proposal conceded their time to Marlow Morrison, president of the Tiempos Lindos Homeowners Association, a neighborhood just to the west of the land now owned by Homewise. Morrison, along with Santa Fe resident Rachel Thompson, offered their version of a compromise through a prerecorded video. They proposed that Homewise increase the size of the planned park by cutting into adjacent land that was once the home of a radioactive manufacturing facility.
“The plan we just presented reaches [Homewise’s] mission statement and profit goals much more adequately,” Morrison told the panel. “In fact, with development responsibilities removed from 12 acres, it makes this project almost as profitable.”
When asked by Commissioner Pilar Faulkner if Homewise would consider cutting down on houses and increasing the park’s size, Homewise CEO Mike Loftin said it’s not financially viable, namely because home sales are already slated to pay for the park.
“You can’t support all of this if you cut this down to a much smaller size,” Loftin said.
Faulkner went on to criticize Santa Fe County for the way it sold the property to Homewise, leaving the Planning Commission with very little wiggle room.
“What we can do as a Planning Commission, is we can try to guide this project with the authority and jurisdiction that we have into a place that meets the needs of clearly two equally important needs of the community,” Faulkner said.
Others who spoke against the proposal donned red ribbons and argued that while affordable housing is important for Santa Fe, infill is not the answer.
Many who spoke in favor of the development, some using Spanish translators, came from nearby neighborhoods including the mobile home park just to the west of the proposed land.
Whether Homewise should be allowed to build Los Prados has drawn allegations and recriminations over the past several months.
Santa Fe County used taxpayer money to buy the land two decades ago as part of its Open Space and Trails Program, then sold the parcel of land in question in April, angering many who live nearby. Those opposed to the sale cried foul months before, arguing the county broke its own rules by not holding public meetings or seeking approval from the Santa Fe County Open Lands, Trails and Parks Advisory Committee. But county officials previously told SFR those stops along the way to selling off land were suggestions, not requirements, and the state auditor has not answered a complaint about the sale.
Loftin told SFR last month the company aims to offer increased affordable housing options for city residents, citing a city-wide housing crisis. Loftin further rankled those opposed to the development when he called pushback against the proposal—and the pervasive sentiment towards developments in Santa Fe in general—a “NIMBY problem”. The term is an acronym for Not In My Backyard, or the notion that residents may be in favor of such developments, just not near where they live.
Cynthia Delgado told the commission she lives near Old Santa Fe Trail and supports the development.
“Here in Santa Fe, all of us can agree that we want the best for our children, we want the best for the families of Santa Fe, we believe in affordable housing,” Delgado said. “We believe in parks/open spaces/play structures. We believe in all of those things, and after we agree, we all say: ‘But.’”