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 Aug 23 - 29, 2012 
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Council Watch

Fresh Eyes

By Carolyn Carlson

The city has hired a new independent review officer to examine complaints against the Albuquerque Police Department. Robin Hammer was a prosecutor for 17 years in regional district attorneys offices and was a trial lawyer for the Judicial Standards Commission. She was nominated by Mayor Richard Berry and unanimously confirmed at the Monday, Aug. 20 meeting. She said she plans to work collaboratively with the Council, Police Oversight Commission, police chief and mayor to examine negative trends within APD and find solutions.

Councilor Debbie O’Malley introduced an amendment to the election code that would nix city requirements for voter IDs during the Nov. 6 election. She said the move could help make it possible for the Paseo del Norte interchange project to go before the voters. The issue was slated to be on the ballot, but whether it can legally be part of the general election is in question. O'Malley's amendment will be heard at the Monday, Sept. 3 Council meeting.

The historic neon sign for El Vado Motel on Central will be restored with $6,500 from a National Park Service grant and another $6,500 from the city.

Send your comments about the City Council to carolyn@alibi.com.

The next meeting is set for 5 p.m. on Monday, Sept. 3, in the Council Chambers in the basement of City Hall. You can also view it on GOV TV 16 or at cabq.gov/govtv.

End Zone

Issue

Developers would like to refashion the old Vagabond hotel near University and Gibson into an apartment complex. The eyesore has been vacant since 2006. The 4-acre property would be converted from 150 hotel rooms into 150 one-bedroom units. The University of New Mexico and neighborhood groups appealed a zone change that would have allowed the redevelopment. UNM has plans for a mixed-use development on adjacent properties.

Council's Take

Councilors Trudy Jones, Don Harris and Michael Cook voted in favor of allowing the project, but were shot down by the rest of the Council. O’Malley said this was not the best use of the property and it could injure the surrounding area. Kirtland and Clayton Heights neighborhood leaders said the high-density apartment complex was not a quality development and there had to be a better fit, such as retail, for their neighborhood.

Reporter's Take

Most city residents don’t spend much time in this area other than driving to a game at The Pit, Isotopes Park, Lobo Stadium or the BMX bike stadium. These neighborhoods are also home to UNM’s baseball diamond, tennis courts and other fields. Tourists, university visitors and players stay in this region throughout the year, and smart development is crucial. The door is wide open for a unique hotel with mixed-use retail that focuses on local goods and services.

Outside the Big Box

Issue

Who should interpret the city’s big-box regulation was the topic of an appeal before the Council, but the issue became more about who should vote on the measure. Councilors Lewis and Garduño recused themselves at the Aug. 6 meeting due to perceived conflicts: Garduño had participated in a protest at the site of a proposed Walmart, and Lewis received a campaign donation from a company that contracts with Walmart.

The appeal filed by the Taylor Ranch Neighborhood Association and the Westside Coalition questioned whether a hearing officer—instead of the Environmental Planning Commission—should be allowed to decide what constitutes a big-box store.

Council's Take

Garduño announced early on that he was going to participate in this vote. He said he had not made any prejudicial statements about the parties involved in the issue at-hand. “This has citywide implications," he said. "It is not site specific." Councilor Ken Sanchez said at the Aug. 6 meeting he was disappointed the entire Council was not going to deliberate this big-box issue. This week, he said that by participating, Garduño was jeopardizing the integrity of the process and asking for a lawsuit. Lewis voted, too, and the Council's attorney advised that he should be allowed to do so.

Councilors voted that the EPC should decide whether a store is subject to big-box regulations. The commission will likely make that call in September regarding the proposed Walmart on the corner of Coors and Montaño.

Reporter's Take

This whole big-box debate is getting old. It is simple. There really doesn’t need to be a Walmart at that site. There are several in the area already. Have we as a city become so lazy that we require national chain stores to meet our every need at every major intersection? Why not think outside the big box and plan retail that encourages real economic growth by helping small local businesses set up shop?
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