Alibi V.17 No.42 • Oct 16-22, 2008 

Council Watch

Bike and Shop

The city’s code compliance official previously ruled that the Church of Scientology needed a conditional use permit for its proposed Downtown hub. At the Oct. 6 meeting, the church appealed the decision, arguing that it should instead receive a permissive use permit to convert the Gizmo building at Fourth Street and Central into a Scientology center. A conditional use permit requires holding a public hearing with neighborhood input, unlike a permissive permit. Councilors voted to uphold the code compliance official’s ruling as consistent with the 2010 Downtown Sector Plan.

In other actions, the Council passed a Sunport bond package put on hold earlier because of turmoil in the financial markets. Councilor Don Harris’ bill extending a moratorium on building subdivisions within Tijeras Arroyo passed unanimously.

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Cyclists Are People, Too

Councilor Isaac Benton presented an administration bill updating Albuquerque’s Bicycle Traffic Code, which had not been revised since the ’70s. Speakers praised the bill’s educational component. It also deletes or streamlines numerous confusing rules.
The bill discourages cyclists from riding on sidewalks, clarifies the space needed for bike lanes and addresses equipment safety. Councilor Michael Cadigan urged Downtown police units to take the harassment of cyclists more seriously. The bill passed unanimously. The way things are going, in 10 years Albuquerque may look like Beijing in the ’80s, with waves of bicycles flowing past the occasional car. The streamlined regulations, combined with more bike lanes, should help bicycle commuters actually make it to work every day.
Go Shopping, OK?

Councilor Sally Mayer sponsored two bills establishing tax increment development districts (TIDDs) for the Winrock Town Center and for Phase III of ABQ Uptown. The TIDD designations divert 70 percent of gross receipts and 75 percent of property taxes generated by the completed projects to the developers for 25 years. Developers use the money to pay for project infrastructure.

The Town Center will be on the 83-acre site of Winrock Shopping Center. Renderings of the center resemble ABQ Uptown, with outdoor streets, lots of stone veneer and flat, round roofs on some building sections. The smaller ABQ Uptown addition, called Quorum, will include office space, retail, condominiums and underground parking.

Mary Cook, executive director of the Uptown Project Team, said the developments were “exactly what TIDD legislation was designed for.” Developer Paul Silverman said the projects “would more than pay for themselves.” Neighborhood activist Evelyn Feltner wanted to defer the vote, saying the project was still in litigation.

The city retained consultants from the Los Angeles firm CBRE Consulting to review market and fiscal analyses prepared by the developers. They concluded the project had sufficient market support to proceed and that it was not feasible without TIDD financing.
Councilor Ken Sanchez mentioned that TIDD gross receipts money had been reduced from 75 percent to 70 percent. Council President Brad Winter asked, “Well, then, how about 50 percent or 40 percent?” Consultant Thomas Jirovsky couldn’t say the smaller percentage would work. Winter said the “beautiful shopping centers along Paseo del Norte” and at ABQ Uptown had been built without any public money.

Councilor Rey Garduño asked how developers would secure funding in a bad business climate. Jirovsky said things should be back to normal in a couple of years, but the TIDD bills needed to pass in time for 2009 state Legislature action. Garduño said the consultants estimated the project would bring 20 to 25 percent “net new” revenues, thus assuming people would have 25 percent more money and would only spend it at the new development. Consultant Richard Williams said the project was about maintaining the city’s competitive position with other Southwestern cities.

Councilor Debbie O’Malley said the valuable property was not blighted and would be developed without TIDDs. She said it had stayed vacant so long because it had been in litigation. She expressed concern that TIDDs would erode general funds. Cadigan praised the project and the realistic way the developers had presented it. The bills passed 6-3, Winter, O’Malley and Garduño opposed.
Short-term take: Wow! Go for it! Long-term take: Wonder how this will turn out. The Winrock Town Center certainly qualifies as infill development. It’s adjacent to well-established transportation corridors and fits land use patterns. Developers presented appealing graphics of the retail, residential, hotel, office and entertainment mix they are planning. The project is vastly preferable to the SunCal TIDD deal.

But in several ways, the center is problematic. Nobody can predict the economic climate next week, much less in four or five years when the project should begin receiving its tax breaks. Put another way, the developers are betting things will “get back to normal” in a couple of years. That is, Albuquerque residents will have plenty of discretionary income, growth will continue unabated and no spectacular environmental crises will have occurred locally.

They’re also betting the city will have a healthy revenue stream. Chief Financial Officer Anna Lamberson mentioned 70 percent of the city’s revenues come from gross receipts taxes. Those receipts will be taking hits from Mesa del Sol, SunCal, Winrock Town Center and smaller projects. How much money will be left for general expenses and for truly blighted areas?