City Councilors are not breaking out shovels yet, but they took a significant step Wednesday toward redeveloping the Santa Fe University of Art and Design campus four years after the school closed.
Mayor Alan Webber and the council approved a package of legislation rezoning the Midtown site as mixed use and adopted a master plan that envisions a walkable, bike-friendly community that will be home to cultural and commercial spaces as well as potentially 1,100 units of housing.
Some councilors cautioned that, despite nearly half a decade of discussions, residents still have work to do as the municipal government eyes specific development projects.
“The heavy lifting is now just before us,” District 2 Councilor Michael Garcia said.
The master plan passed Wednesday without opposition details design standards and infrastructure changes to meet the site’s changing needs. Meanwhile, the public policy objectives for redeveloping the campus will be detailed in a community development plan the council has yet to approve.
That step hit a speed bump Wednesday.
The meeting agenda called for Webber to formally introduce the community development plan for the council’s future consideration. But a resolution for him to do so was not included in the paperwork provided to councilors. That, in turn, means the community development plan could not be introduced until a later date.
Discussions about the future of the site have included calls for the city to maintain some of the resources on the campus, such as a library and performing arts center, and use the expansive open space on the property in the middle of town to build affordable housing.
The master plan paves the way for the city to redevelop the Fogelson Library to become a branch in the city’s library system. It also sets up the redevelopment of the Greer Garson Theater and Visual Arts Complex—ensuring, backers say, that the site is a hub for the city’s arts community.
With the master plan approved, officials working on the project said they will issue requests for proposals this week for redevelopment of several facilities already on the campus—the theater, the visual arts center and film production studios.
The master plan also envisions up to 1,100 housing units on the site, including apartments and townhouses, with 30% of those units intended to be affordable for low- and middle-income households.
But some councilors argued the site should include more affordable housing.
“We’re shooting for a 30% goal with affordability and, in my opinion, it should be much higher,” District 3 Councilor Lee Garcia said.
District 2 Councilor Michael Garcia says he is concerned that developers will opt to pay a fee instead of sticking to the city’s requirements to build affordable housing at Midtown. And he has said he will formally propose prohibiting developers from choosing that option when building on the campus.
Webber noted a minimum of four parcels would be put aside for 100% affordable housing, which would amount to an estimated 195 units, some for rent and some for sale.
The mayor argued that setting aside those parcels for affordable housing would be a big initial boost towards the city’s goal.
“We’ll get there almost immediately,” he said.
District 1 Councilor Carol Romero-Wirth called the site the city’s “best and biggest opportunity” for affordable housing.
District 1 Councilor Signe Lindell and District 3 Councilor Chris Rivera did not attend Wednesday’s meeting. All other councilors voted in favor of the master plan.
Ultimately, the rezoning marks a formal turn from the goals city leaders once held for the property.
Formerly The College of Santa Fe, the campus was purchased by the city after the college closed in 2009. The municipal government leased much of it to the company operating the Santa Fe University of Art and Design.
But when the for-profit company operating the university shut it down in 2018, it upended the city’s hopes of keeping alive an institution of higher learning on the campus.
Unclear is how or if the property will be made more accessible to the rest of the city. Only a few roads connect it to other streets.
Earlier plans raised concerns among nearby business owners when illustrations depicted streets leading from the property into adjoining properties, effectively cutting through several small businesses.
Some neighboring property owners said Wednesday that city staff had addressed their concerns.
But officials working on the project also told councilors they expect neighboring property owners will still be interested in how the campus can be connected to surrounding neighborhoods.