City Councilor Eric Griego worked with all sides to find a compromise on the East Downtown master plan.
A packed house greeted city councilors at the March 7 meeting. The council approved the appointment of Municipal Development Director Ed Adams to replace Diana Dorn-Jones as the city's Chief Operations Officer. Dorn-Jones resigned to run for Eric Griego's District 3 council seat. Councilor Martin Heinrich's bill requiring medicines such as Sudafed to be sold only with the assistance of store personnel passed unanimously. Druggists would also be required to keep a log of purchasers. The drugs contain ephedrine, used to manufacture methamphetamine.
Discussion of development issues ran so long the council adjourned at 11:15 p.m. after postponing several high profile bills until March 21.
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American Idyll Since 2003 the Broadway + Central Corridors Partnership, a group of property owners, developers, residents and city personnel, has been working on a plan to redevelop the Broadway corridor from Coal to Lomas and the Central corridor from the railroad tracks to I-25. The area is referred to as East Downtown, or EDO. The plan changes the area's Historic Overlay Zone classification to an Urban Conservation Overlay Zone, allowing a wider range of development. Two bills enabling the plan were deferred at the last meeting, but sponsor Eric Griego said all parties had worked over the weekend and agreed on 20 amendments, leaving more amendments to be resolved by a Council vote. The plan calls for creating an "urban village" that encourages walking, retail development along the corridors, more landscaping, and high-density housing between Broadway and the railroad. The plan also details regulations for new buildings.
Fifty people spoke. Thirty supported the EDO plan. The remainder opposed or asked for more time to work out differences. Residents of Huning Highlands said the area was already redeveloping rapidly and didn't need the EDO plan imposed on it. They also opposed increased liquor sales and taller buildings. They questioned whether 2,000 new residents would create congestion and opposed changing the area's name from Huning Highlands to East Downtown. Diana Dorn-Jones said, "If someone came into your house and started renaming your children, would you agree to that?" Supporters of EDO said every effort had been made to include residents in the charrette, or planning, process. Rob Dickson, developer of the old Albuquerque High School, said EDO was "not a developers' plan," and was "not about buildings, it was about people, about commerce." Frank Gilmore, who graduated from the old AHS, reminisced about the neighborhood businesses that thrived in the area when he was a boy. Both bills passed unanimously.
The EDO charrette presents very good planning concepts. Of course, some people might not want to live in a planning concept, but the one option never open to discussion is, "Just leave us alone." However, if the plan succeeds as described, it should protect some sense of the historical Huning Highlands neighborhood, not encroach on adjacent residential streets and not outlaw the accidental. Although the goal of slowing and reducing traffic in the EDO area will encourage lots of happy latte sipping and tzotchke purchasing, the traffic interface between the EDO area and the rest of the city seems problematic. Reducing Central to two traffic lanes and Broadway to two lanes plus a turning lane will significantly displace through-traffic now using those streets. Diverting a heavier east-west traffic load onto Lead, Coal, MLK Jr. Blvd. and Lomas, and north-south traffic onto Second Street and University may create unforeseen problems.
Extreme Makeover Three administration bills annexing 69 acres in Miguel Gomez's District 1 came to a vote after much negotiation between developers and neighborhood residents. Residents expressed concern about the high densities proposed with schools already overcrowded. Councilor Debbie O'Malley said, "We keep hearing that people aren't going to want to build in the city because of the Planned Growth Strategy." If the PGS was so bad, she asked Jim Strozier of Consensus Planning, why did his client, Albuquerque Excavators, want the city to annex the land for its proposed development?
After Strozier praised the city's permitting process, Cadigan said, "Would you repeat that last paragraph at the next meeting of NAIOP (National Association of Industrial and Office Properties) when they're calling us communists?" Referring to House Bill 805 and Senate Bill 1005 currently before the state Legislature, Cadigan blasted "colleagues" who were "trying to destroy the city's planning process" by lobbying for a state bill that overrides the city's impact fee system. Cadigan said he supported the annexations "with chagrin." The bills passed 5-4, O'Malley, Gomez, Griego and Heinrich opposed.
The state bills mandate an average impact fee, regardless of what a development actually costs the city. The bills also allow unrestricted credits against the fees for building any type of infrastructure. The state's Fiscal Impact Report on HB805 says that under the bill, over the next eight years Westside infrastructure costs not paid by developers will exceed $14,000 per house. Infill developers will be badly hurt by this bill since their fees will rise to compensate for what fringe developers evade. It's hard to understand why Albuquerque legislators Kiki Saavedra, Daniel Silva, Eric Youngberg and Greg Payne, along with cheerleader Tina Cummins, sponsored a bill so damaging to their city and constituents.