Santolina’s Request To Strip Water Requirements Challenged

Santolina’s Request To Strip Water Requirements Challenged

Advocates Challenge Planning Commission's Recommendation To Nix Water Requirements

Today community groups and residents of the South Valley appealed a decision from the Bernalillo County Planning Commission in the Santolina mega-development case. The Planning Commission recommends stripping key provisions that require the Santolina developers to prove that its project has water.

The appeal was filed with the Bernalillo County Commission (BCC), which is tentatively slated to take up the issue in August.

“With this decision, the Bernalillo County Planning Commission decided to ignore and jeopardize the regions water supply,” said James “Santiago” Maestas, president of the South Valley Regional Association of Acequias. “We urge the Bernalillo County Commission to finally do the right thing about Santolina, and rule in favor of this appeal for the sake of our communities and our water.”

“My neighbors in the South Valley want to know why the Bernalillo County Commission doesn’t just put the brakes on the whole Santolina development process,” says Roberto Roibal of SouthWest Organizing Project. “The District Court has ruled that the zoning approval for the Santolina development should be remanded back to the County Commission. Why then is the County Planning Commission and the County Commission continuing to have hearings on the Level B plan when they have to start all over for the Level A Master Plan zoning?”

The appeal addresses a request by developers to remove three critical water conditions from the BCC’s approval of Santolina’s Level A Master Plan. These conditions require that, before BCC will consider whether or not to approve Santolina’s Level B.1 Master Plan, developers must provide a fully executed Development Agreement with the Albuquerque-Bernalillo County Water Utility Authority.

This agreement, along with other details, would furnish proof that Santolina has the requisite water to supply the estimated 90,000 residents of the project. However, two years after these conditions were put into place Santolina still has no agreement with the Water Authority.

The Planning Commission’s decision to recommend their removal was made at a June 7 hearing, in spite of a court ruling five days earlier that invalidates the Level A approvals for the project.

In the appeal, the New Mexico Environmental Law Center (NMELC) asks the BCC to defer its consideration of the Planning Commission’s recommendation while Santolina lacks valid Level A approvals. If the BCC refuses to defer the decision, the appeal asks the BCC to reject the Planning Commission’s recommendation that the conditions be stripped from the BCC’s approval of the Level A Master Plan.

“As Judge Nancy Franchini’s June 2 decision illustrates, the law is on our side when it comes to providing due process to the people of Albuquerque and Bernalillo County,” says Jaimie Park, NMELC Staff Attorney. “As long as Bernalillo County decision-makers allow Santolina to subvert the system, we will challenge them. These officials are playing a dangerous game with the region’s water, and if they don’t bring water into the conversation, it’s a game we all are going to lose.”

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Dennis Domrzalski is managing editor of ABQ Free Press. Reach him at dennis@freeabq.com.