It marked another failure of the Bernalillo County Planning Commission to protect the community from the greed of developers.
BY VIRGINIA NECOCHEA
Albuquerque, it’s due time to wake up and smell the not-so-fresh Santolina scheme that continues to seep its murky way through the Bernalillo County percolator. Yeah, I’ll definitely pass on a cup of that.
For those of you who might have been living in a cave for the last couple of years, or just have been unaware, Santolina refers to the massive housing development that is being proposed to be built on the West Side of Albuquerque (picture 9-mile hill area south of I-40).
We’re talking about 13,700 acres with over 37,000 homes guzzling more than 14,000 acre feet of water per year at build-out. That’s the equivalent of the water consumption of the entire city of Rio Rancho. Should you be worried?
Although many county officials, the developers, their lobbyists, and those with vested interests say you shouldn’t, the official water numbers and reports from state water experts, say a loud yes.
This November it will be four years that this battle against the Santolina Master Plan has waged on. The opponents, as they are referred to by officials and the media, are mostly concerned community members, irrigators, farmers, acequias, members of local nonprofits, neighborhood coalition members, students and more.
Over the course of the almost four years, much evidence has been provided that speaks volumes against the need for this massive example of continued sprawl. Of course, number one on the minds of most is water.
Wait, what water? The Southwest continues to face one of the worst mega-droughts in history and the current water system remains stressed and strained.
As Norm Gaume, former director of the NM Interstate Stream Commission said, water in New Mexico is a zero-sum game. Any new development will require the water from an already existing user. Who are the users in this case? We all are because our entire community is connected to the same water source and aquifer.
You tell me, is Santolina, a sprawl development miles away from the city’s core, worth the destruction of our river, our bosque, our acequias, and our beautiful farms?
Apart from the exorbitant water demands, there are a host of other issues that plague the supposed millennial-friendly and “green” Santolina. The public was told by the developers that Santolina would be at no net expense to the county and would not require Tax Increment Development Districts (TIDDS, aka our tax money) to support their pipe dream.
But lo and behold, over 40 TIDDS and PIDS (Public Improvement Districts), up to $500 million, were approved last year to subsidize lofty Santolina.
Aside from major issues concerning the misuse of our water and tax money, we are also talking about the destruction of a tract of land that sits upon 10,000-year-old sand dunes. What happens when the layer of topsoil is stripped off, unleashing the loose sand below it?
A dust bowl city that will create not only air quality problems, but enormous amounts of blowing sand, will impact all of the growers in the valley below, which produce much of the food sold locally at our farmer’s markets. Gritty greens anyone?
Is the Santolina Master Plan as needed as the developers have argued? Is it needed when recent population numbers are in decline? That is, more people are leaving Albuquerque than staying?
Is Santolina needed when the foreclosure rates continue to be their highest on the West Side? Is Santolina, a prime example of outdated 1980s sprawl development, reasonable when progressive cities across the nation are moving away from this non-sustainable trend?
Wednesday, June 7, marked another historic moment in Albuquerque. It marked yet another failure of the entire Bernalillo County Planning Commission to protect their constituents and community from the greed of developers. On this dreadful day, after spending hours waiting for Santolina to finally be heard, as it was last on the agenda, many community members provided heartfelt and expert testimony, to an already swayed board.
After public comment and only a bit of discussion, the motion was immediately made by recently appointed Johnny Peña to approve a change in the original conditions that had been set forth by the CPC themselves a while back. With this unanimously approved decision, a Water Development Agreement is no longer needed until submittal of Level C, and not Level B as once was required.
The developers once again were gifted the upper hand by our officials even despite the recent ruling by state District Court Judge Nancy Franchini that invalidated the Santolina zoning change from a protected rural agricultural zone to planned communities.
Where was the democratic process today, my good people of ‘Burque? It was absent. Yet despite another sucker punch, the community will continue to take a stand to protect and preserve traditions and sacred water against this unnecessary and ill-conceived sprawl development.
Stay tuned because Santolina will once again be punted over to the Bernalillo County Commission for their approval of Level B sometime this summer.
Dr. Virginia Necochea is the executive director of the Center for Social Sustainable Systems.