Alibi V.15 No.37 • Sept 14-20, 2006 

Council Watch

So You Wanted Lots of Rain ...

A view of the train tracks passing over a flooded Central Avenue after a heavy rain this summer. The rain caused damage to many Downtown residents’ homes.
A view of the train tracks passing over a flooded Central Avenue after a heavy rain this summer. The rain caused damage to many Downtown residents’ homes.
Wes Edling

The Sept. 6 Council meeting began with an adorable Pet Project dog peeing on the Council carpet and became even more entertaining when Lawrence Rael, executive director of the Mid-Region Council of Governments, presented the Council with a model Rail Runner. Rael said the commuter train was averaging 2,500 to 3,000 riders on weekdays and carried more than 15,000 passengers to the Bernalillo wine festival. Unfortunately, the model trains painted with our state bird are all sold out.

Things turned painful when Barelas and Downtown residents shared horror stories about damage the recent floods did to their homes. Several said it was the fifth time their houses had been flooded. Councilor Isaac Benton's bill making storm drainage remediation a top city priority passed unanimously.

Councilor Ken Sanchez moved a memorial supporting Albuquerque Public Schools' special bond election on Tuesday, Sept. 19. Go vote. The bond money won't fix everything, but without it, problems will get significantly worse.

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Issue Council's Take Reporter's Take
Dormant No Longer

At the previous Council meeting, landowners launched broadsides at the Volcano Heights Sector Development plan sponsored by Councilor Michael Cadigan. But during this session, a majority of speakers, many of them developers, praised the plan as designed to protect both the natural environment and property values.

Negotiation resulted in several changes in plans for the 3,500-plus acres between the petroglyph escarpment and the volcano cones. The latest version calls for pedestrian crossings at the Paseo/Unser intersection, building clusters in some areas, increased building heights and densities in town centers, reduced open space, more fencing options, and a sped up timetable for commercial development. Cadigan said, "People in the area are dying for a grocery store, dying for a place to go to work.

The sticking point was the bill's language linking limitations on residential development to overcrowded schools. Cadigan said it was unreasonable to ask kids already living on the Westside to "pack up and go to Eastside schools so new kids can move in."
Councilor Sally Mayer said overcrowded schools weren't the city's fault. Sanchez put the blame for overcrowding entirely on APS. Councilor Don Harris said, "When people came over on the Mayflower, they didn't say, 'There're no schools.'" Councilors Brad Winter and Debbie O'Malley said the city did have responsibility for inadequate infrastructure. O'Malley said the "hypergrowth" of the last 10 years was unprecedented.

Sanchez moved an amendment allowing one extended family higher density zoning on their three lots where they wanted to build seven homes for seven siblings. Other councilors said they couldn't see a legal basis for the special zoning. The amendment failed 4-5, with Sanchez, Harris, Mayer and Loy supporting. One of the family members yelled, "see you in court" while leaving.

Mayer said the bill was underhanded, demonized developers and restricted land the city didn't own. She characterized the plan as un-American but apologized and said she was just joking when Cadigan, a former Marine, challenged her comment. The bill passed 8-1; Mayer opposed.
This reporter's take would fit in a triangle formed by three councilors' statements. Benton, an architect, said that while in his heart he wished nothing would be built on the volcano slopes, the plan was one of the best in the western United States. Heinrich said if supporters of the plan "were as antidevelopment as some people imply, they would vote against this plan so nothing would happen for another 30 years." O'Malley said of Westside development: "Just letting the market control it--we've seen that happen, and it's a mess. Developers want predictability."

It's been encouraging to see the development industry out front on this sector plan. But we're still long overdue for a public debate about the nature of land ownership, its rights and responsibilities. We need to address how far individuals can alter their property in ways that degrade or enhance the common good, how far residents' quality of life can be degraded to facilitate future development. We need to keep saying, "No, Volcano Heights cannot overbuild in a way that dumps massive amounts of runoff onto Taylor Ranch below."
High Comedy in the Far Heights

Jay Rowland, representing the NorEste Neighborhood Association, appealed a decision by the city's Development Review Board to count a drainage arroyo across a proposed development as buildable land. The four-lot property totals 3.42 gross acres, but subtracting rights of way and the drainage channel leaves only 1.8 acres. The area is zoned for three dwelling units per acre.
Developers' representatives argued that, at the precise moment in time the land was platted, the arroyo had not yet been formally declared a public easement. Therefore, they should be allowed to ignore the arroyo and squeeze 10 homes onto the net 1.8 acres. Councilors voted 5-4 not to count the arroyo as buildable, Harris, Sanchez, Benton and Mayer opposed. This very long debate wins hands-down as the most bizarre, Catch-22 farce in my five years of watching the City Council. Everybody knew the arroyo would be an easement. Contracts referred to an easement. The city even gave the developers a $1.1 million impact fee credit for building a concrete channel for the arroyo they so energetically ignored.