Land Swap Is Smarter Alternative
Former Albuquerque Water Resources Manager, Norm Gaume, cautioned in his June 5 ABQ Free Press Op-Ed (“Santolina Jeopardizes Region’s Water Supply“), that the proposed Santolina development “will jeopardize our region’s public water supply, negatively impact local consumers, and affect taxpayers throughout the State.”
It is urgent for the Bernalillo County Planning Commission (CPC) and the Bernalillo County Commission (BCC) to heed this expert’s caution and objectively consider the negative long-term impact Santolina will have on our Community’s economy, infrastructure and quality of life.
An inadequate water supply for our community, combined with the impact of ignoring commonly accepted contemporary urban planning and design principles, could jeopardize our viability as a high desert community.
Some of the most basic urban design issues that our county leaders must consider include:
1. The Santolina proposal is based on an obsolete and archaic planning model from the mid-20th Century that is dependent on the automobile — a design that is no longer relevant or appropriate in the 21st Century and contradicts almost all contemporary urban planning principles that call for infill development vs. continued urban sprawl.
2. The Santolina development will not be built or maintained at “no net expense” to the county as required by the County’s “Planned Communities Criteria”. Not only will there inevitably be substantial “net expense” to the county, citizens living in adjacent communities, including Albuquerque, will ultimately incur substantial “net expense” as well.
3. Radically speculative land use and planning strategies not based on economic reality promote sprawl development and exacerbate private and public sector disinvestment in economically depressed communities. The actual population growth rate of Bernalillo County over the last 10 years is less than 10 percent of the projections used by the Santolina developers, which obviously make them “radically speculative”.
4. Suburban development costs the public more than double the cost of more compact urban development and infill.
5. The Santolina development is simply not needed. There are already several failed “planned communities” in the Albuquerque metropolitan area. Why would we intentionally create another one? There is an abundance of vacant land in Bernalillo County and Albuquerque — more than enough to meet the housing needs of Albuquerque’s growth.
The county’s leadership is obligated to consider a better idea.
A substantially better alternative is a land swap among Bernalillo County, the City of Albuquerque and the Santolina developers — an approach that would benefit all parties.
This approach would involve the county and city offering the Santolina developers a package of selected infill parcels within the city and county — a portion of which could be dedicated to low-income housing — along with appropriate economic incentives, in exchange for the current Santolina site, which could then be preserved in perpetuity as open space.
A very small portion of the site could be dedicated to a large solar array that would supply low cost, clean energy to both the city and county, perhaps via an electric utility coop, owned by the citizens of our community.
The idea of a land swap was first discussed with county, city and Santolina officials in 2015. The proposal was officially presented to the County Planning Commission on July 21, 2016 when it was recommended that the CPC and the BCC explore various land swap structures as an alternative to the current proposed Santolina Development Plan.
An idea along these lines could be a major win-win for all parties. It would protect the fragile West Mesa, stimulate economic development within the county and the city, enhance the long-term viability of our community and improve the well-being of our community’s current and future citizens.
This idea deserves serious and immediate consideration.
David Vogel is a former planning and management systems consultant who has lived in New Mexico since 1971. His research and large-scale systems analyses, as well as his economic and community development experience, have been utilized and applied by businesses, nonprofits, government agencies and communities throughout the U.S. and internationally.