It's settled. Last week, city officials and developer D. McCall closed a deal on the sale of what has become, in the past 14 months, one of Albuquerque's most famous plots of land.
The agreement allows the city to purchase the last remaining privately owned land along the Rio Grande in Albuquerque. More to the point, it means the Bosque will remain unencumbered by future housing developments as long as the Rio Grande State Park exists.
The city had been working to preserve the land as open space and thereby thwart Mr. McCall's plan to build upwards of 100 homes up to the river's edge ever since the Taylor Foundation sold the cottonwood stand to McCall in December 2003.
Back then, the foundation, Mr. McCall and the Albuquerque Christian Children's Home engaged in a transaction worth an estimated $3.5 million that included 127 acres of riverside property. McCall then submitted plans to the county to turn the land into a subdivision. City officials took notice and after a series of mediation hearings, condemnation proceedings and a court ruling (read it all in the archives on the Alibi website), McCall agreed to sell 122 acres to the city and donate the remaining five (which undoubtedly has some tax benefits).
When negotiations began a year ago, McCall wanted approximately $30 million for the land, but the city's best appraisal was just under $5 million. McCall eventually lowered his asking price to $17 million, and after four hours of mediation on Wednesday, Jan. 5, a final $9.3 million compromise was made.
The settlement conference lasted several hours, with city officials, including City Councilor Michael Cadigan, Chief Financial Officer Gail Reese and city Open Space Director Jay Hart, in one room and McCall, his attorney and Ivy Harper, a representative of the Albuquerque Christian Children's Home, in a separate room. The mediator, Paul Bardecke, went back and forth. "The idea is to separate the parties so whatever personal animosity exists can be minimized," said Cadigan, an attorney.
"It sure wasn't what I wanted, but I think they were gonna tie me up for a great length of time," said McCall. "It was time to do the deal. In my opinion, I made a reasonable profit, but I could have made a whole lot more if I could have developed it."
When McCall purchased the property, it was divided into a 111-acre parcel owned by the Taylor Foundation with the adjacent 16 acres owned by the children's home.
McCall said Taylor Foundation representatives were in contact with him by phone throughout the negotiations and now the proceeds of the sale will be divided among the parties, but he didn't mention any numbers. The full terms of the sale between McCall, the Taylor Foundation and the children's home have never been disclosed, although they will become public record once each entity submits a tax filing.
Cadigan said the city "served discovery" on McCall months ago but was never able to determine the exact nature of his sales agreement with the foundation.
Nonetheless, during the past year McCall applied to Bernalillo County for the required permits to create a five-lot subdivision on the 16-acre parcel, and, according to county records, he had received five of the necessary six signatures needed to proceed with development. Although the county environmental health division had not approved the septic tank proposal, Cadigan said the prospect of McCall getting full approval and then setting a precedent for building in the Bosque was a driving force in the city's desire to reach a final compromise on the price promptly.
"We looked at various structures of cash and land exchanges, but it became clear that the cash-only deal was the only way to get it done," said Cadigan. "The price is more than we wanted to pay and probably less than he wanted to take. But, weighing the interests and risks of both parties, it was probably fair."
The city plans to hand over a check by the end of this week. Payment will come from $3.5 million appropriated at the Legislature and the remainder from the city's open space trust fund—money accrued from the sale of surplus land.
"That pretty well cleans out the trust fund," said Cadigan, "but the public outcry that would have resulted if those trees had been bulldozed and houses built up to the river would have been incredible."
According to Bill Williams, a founding board member of the Taylor Foundation, the property was originally owned by Joel and Nina Mae Taylor and the land was put into a trust 15 years ago in hopes that the sale would one day benefit the couple's retirement income and other named benefactors, primarily the Church of Christ, of which all three were parishioners. Joel died several years ago and Nina Mae passed away on June 5, 2004, after both suffered from Alzheimer's disease, while living into their 90s.
Mr. McCall, also a member of the Church of Christ, said it was his understanding that several affiliates of the Church, including two small colleges in Texas, were also benefactors of the foundation.
In an interview with the Alibi last week, Bill Brennan, Joel and Nina's grandson and only living relative in Albuquerque, said he was pleased the land would not be developed but expressed remorse over the foundation's handling of his grandparents' estate.
"That whole Bosque transaction is a sore subject," said Brennan, who lives on the Westside within eyeshot of the property. Brennan said both of his parents have passed away, and no Taylor family members are on the Taylor Foundation board of directors.
He expressed dismay that his grandparents did not see any of the proceeds from the land sale while they were alive.
"I feel the Church of Christ talked my grandparents into giving away (the property) with a bunch of false promises that they were going to make money on this deal. My feeling was—anyone who was 90 years old and believes they are going to get something—somebody can wait them out. It was all done in the name Lord."
Although Bill Williams did not return Alibi phone calls last week, in an interview several months ago, Williams said the foundation had tried to sell the land to the city repeatedly over the past decade, but to no avail. The city, he said, did not see any urgency, since the property resided in an area thought to be secure from development.
For his part, Councilor Cadigan acknowledged that the city faces higher costs for purchasing environmentally sensitive land when it waits for a conflict with a developer to drive the negotiations.
"It's a practice that the city needs to guard against in the future by being more pro-active about open space acquisitions," said Cadigan. As an example, he cited land on the escarpment near the Petroglyph National Monument that he hopes can be procured for open space, but is skyrocketing in price due to encroaching development.
As for Mr. McCall, he describes himself as a "valley developer," who has taken an interest of late in obtaining a sizable patch of land in the far South Valley known as Price's Dairy. McCall sees the property, which runs up to the Bosque, as prime development real estate.
When asked if he feels any sympathy toward the taxpayers who will imminently fund the purchase of his proposed Bosque Wilderness Subdivision property, McCall said, "absolutely not."
"I think it was a bargain price," McCall said. "I would have made a lot more developing it."
"The end result is spectacular," said Mayor Martin Chavez. "I would have preferred to pay less, but (allowing the land to be developed) would have been a violation of who we are."