Council Watch: Municipal cocaine, plus a new Far Northeast Heights sector plan pits business against mobile home residents
 Alibi V.19 No.8 • Feb 25-March 3, 2010 

Council Watch

Municipal Cocaine

That is what Westside City Councilor Dan Lewis called federal grant money at the Wednesday, Feb. 17 meeting. The Council debated whether to green-light an application for a $6.7 million national transit grant. The money would build a Rail Runner / Park and Ride station in the North Valley on Montaño near the railroad tracks. The request passed 6-3 in spite of Lewis’ opinion of federal monies being equal to nose candy. “I am concerned when looking into the future thinking about these grant monies, concerned about our dependency on these grants,” he said. “It almost seems like municipal cocaine.”

“I am concerned when looking into the future thinking about these grant monies, concerned about our dependency on these grants. It almost seems like municipal cocaine.”

Westside City Councilor Dan Lewis

The Montaño station project already has a portion of the land it needs and some city transportation tax money (about $230,000), but that’s still not nearly enough. Transit planners estimate about $8 million is required to buy an additional 4.1 acre parcel of property and build the station. And the vision does not end there. Planners are also studying the feasibility of building affordable housing at the station site or on adjoining lands to the West that are owned by the city and the Water Authority. Transit planners said the project has a good chance of being chosen by the feds for the grant because the money would not only go toward building a rail station but would also lay the foundation for residences to pop up around it.

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Business vs. Mobile Home Residents

Councilors were asked to approve an updated North I-25 Sector Development Plan that's been in the works since 2006. It included a zoning change that would have permitted the Coronado Village mobile home park to be overtaken by commercial development. The new zoning designation would have allowed park owners to evict the hundreds of residents from the mobile home park. Though many would be displaced, Albuquerque Public Schools supported the sector plan and expressed concern that if any more residences were added to that area, it would cause APS to change its boundaries. Neighborhoods east of I-25 would be drawn out of La Cueva’s school district and into Cibola's.

Numerous neighborhood meetings have been held to seek public input. The sector plan covers 2,800-acres bordered roughly by Sandia Pueblo on the north and Paseo del Norte on the south. It also extends from Louisiana on the east to Edith on the West.

The plan anticipates the Paseo del Norte and I-25 interchange rebuild, which hasn’t yet been funded.
Councilor Debbie O’Malley introduced an amendment that would make it more difficult for the park owners to change the zoning of the 60-acre property and evict the tenants. It would force the mobile home park to go through the usual channels to seek a new zoning designation instead of bundling the zone change with the sector plan.

City planner Russell Brito pointed out that as things stand, the owners have the latitude to add commercial and retail spaces on parts of the property—but not on the whole thing. Council President Ken Sanchez said it is difficult to balance the property owners' rights with the tenants’ rights. Councilor Trudy Jones said while it is too bad so many people would be displaced, the owners have property rights. If they want to evict the residents in order to redevelop the land, she said, then the property owners’ rights are the ones the Council must protect. But she added that the city should help residents find new places for their mobile homes. Councilor Rey Garduño said he understands the need to protect property rights but not at the expense of human dignity. “We are better than that,” he said. O'Malley's amendment passed in a 6-3 vote, and then the sector plan passed unanimously.
Nearly a dozen people spoke for and against the updated sector plan. Those asking the Council to approve it included the Greater Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce, Hope Christian School (which owns a large chunk of developable property nearby), and a couple of big land owners and developers that have their sights set on turning the area into a retail destination and industrial magnet area.

Several tenants from the mobile home park spoke against the plan. Nina Porter said she, along with numerous other senior citizens, has lived in the park for more than 30 years. She said many of the mobile homes in the park are too old to be moved anywhere else, and those senior citizens are facing homelessness or nursing homes. “These are our homes. We don’t want to go live with our children, be homeless or go to a nursing home,” she said.

The owners of Coronado Village said at the meeting they would give 18 to 21 months’ notice to the tenants. They said they will pay $1,000 for single-wide trailers and $2,000 for double wides to help defray the cost of moving.

I agree it is a dilemma to balance the park owners' rights against hundreds of people who live in the mobile home community. Sometimes elected officials need to rise above the want for more shopping centers and tax revenue and cast their votes on the side of real human issues and needs.