Neighbors sue the city over Albuquerque's bike stadium
By Simon McCormack
Noise and dust: three days a week, 11 months a year.
That's the major contribution the city's BMX stadium makes to the Clayton Heights/Lomas Del Cielo neighborhood, say several residents. "There's been constant noise from construction, repairs, the crowd and the announcer," says Clayton Heights resident Rosina Roibal. "It's really annoying."
The stadium is on the southeast corner of Buena Vista and Cesar Chavez and is less than a couple hundred feet from the area. Nine people, including Roibal, have brought a lawsuit, charging that the city broke its own ordinances when it built the Duke City BMX Track so close to the neighborhood. The residents filing the lawsuit against the City of Albuquerque say the noise from the PA system and the dust created by the open-air stadium's sand dunes are a tremendous nuisance. The suit, set for trial in the fall, also says the track caused housing values in the area to drop.
Roibal says the city tried to put one over on her neighborhood. "They figured we wouldn't complain because we're a bunch of working-class families that wouldn't raise a fuss," she says. "The city is taking advantage of poor people in that way."
The original plans for building the stadium, published in 2004, placed it next to Isotopes Park, farther away from the neighborhood. The design included a velodrome, or indoor cycling arena, that would be closer to the neighborhoods, buffered by a set of four tennis courts.
They figured we wouldn't complain because we're a bunch of working-class families that wouldn't raise a fuss. The city is taking advantage of poor people in that way.
Clayton Heights resident Rosina Roibal
Those plans were OK'd by the neighborhood association, but where the stadium was built differs from what was approved. Instead of following the original plans, the city opted to swap the positions of the indoor cycling velodrome and the open-air BMX stadium. This put the BMX track next to the neighborhoods. The city also decided to remove the tennis courts, which did away with the buffer between the stadium and the neighborhood.
Reed Easterwood, who was one of the first to join the lawsuit [“Taken for a Ride,” June 14-20, 2007], says the stadium's alternate location was a major change that needed to be brought before the Clayton Heights/Lomas Del Cielo Neighborhood Association for its input. "They didn't give any notice," Easterwood says. "The city didn't think it would get caught doing this."
It Comes with the Territory
Assistant City Attorney Peter Pierotti says the city wasn't trying to trick anyone. He says as the planning process moved forward, it became clear that the velodrome wouldn't fit where it was originally supposed to be built. The city decided to swap the positions of the stadium and the velodrome but had to eliminate the tennis courts to make the new plan work. "We're talking about four sets of tennis courts," Pierotti says. "That's the main difference between the plans."
Pierotti says because the decision to alter the plans wasn't going to affect traffic, parking or how many people came in or out of the stadium, the city felt it was not a major change and so notice wasn't given. He also notes the people bringing the lawsuit all bought their houses next to an area zoned for sports facilities. "It's an interesting pocket of homes that have to contend with lots of different variables," Pierotti says. "Some people wouldn't want to contend with those variables, but others have no problem with it."
Bait and Switch
Sidney Childress, who is representing Roibal, Easterwood and three other clients in the lawsuit, says the city always planned to put the BMX stadium closer to the neighborhood. Childress says he has evidence, including several internal e-mails, that suggests city officials had been discussing putting the BMX stadium where it is now from the beginning of the planning process. "It was an outright, intentional sort of bait and switch," Childress says. "I have to assume that the Planning Department at the Mayor's Office didn't want to follow the rules. It was too much trouble to follow the rules and handle the complaints from the neighborhood."
City Attorney Pierotti shoots back that all options for where the BMX stadium would be built were always on the table. When the proposal was shown to the neighborhood association, Pierotti says, it was the best option. As the process moved forward, the current location of the BMX stadium was shown to be the better fit.
Money for Your Troubles
Childress says the amount of money his clients and the other four plaintiffs are seeking has not been determined. Roibal and Easterwood say they want compensation to cover the lowered value of their houses and for the aggravation the stadium causes. Pierotti says there's no reliable way to determine whether the stadium has caused housing prices to drop, especially because of the slumping housing market. "It's a matter of speculation," Pierotti says. "Some persons would contend that the houses have appreciated in value."
Childress says an appraiser told him the stadium damaged housing values, though a specific number hasn't been estimated.
Not Everyone's Unhappy
Liz Fernandez says she's talked to plenty of people in the neighborhood who love the fact that the BMX track is right next door. Fernandez is the president of Duke City BMX, the nonprofit organization that operates the stadium. "It's a very family-oriented sport," she says. "It shows kids how to compete, and I think it teaches them good sportsmanship."
Duke City BMX Board Member Les Smith says he's enjoyed watching his 9-year-old daughter and 6-year-old son excel at BMX. "Any kid can do it," Smith says. "Even a kid who isn't naturally physically talented can go out there and race against other kids that are close to the same proficiency. No one sits on the bench."
Fernandez says Duke City BMX has worked hard to remedy the complaints residents have had. Duke City BMX personnel place “no parking” signs around the neighborhood before races, and the stadium now has a quieter sound system, she says. "We're working diligently with the city to try to make it an area where it's not so loud," Fernandez says. "I think it's just going to take some time to get used to us."
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