Metropolis Council Contemplating Housing Venture Close to Wetlands, Albuquerque Journal
ALBUQUERQUE, NM – The battle for a proposed housing estate in West Side Albuquerque goes to the city council.
Neighbors who opposed the housing project above the San Antonio Oxbow wetlands achieved what was known as a “victory” when the council decided to take the case on Monday, declining a recommendation to uphold any of the project’s previous permits.
Councilor Ken Sanchez – whose district includes the project site – said he was not convinced that Overlook at Oxbow development was legal under applicable law and asked the council to hold its own hearing.
“I thought there was a lot of uncertainty surrounding this case,” he said during the meeting on Monday.
The Overlook at Oxbow project proposed by Gamma Development would include 76 single-family homes at the east end of Namaste Road NW adjacent to the city’s Oxbow Major Public Open Space.
Staff at the city’s planning department determined that the 23-acre site had adequate zoning for development, and the project met applicable standards of the city’s Integrated Development Ordinance, recommending approval under certain conditions.
The Environmental Planning Commission – an appointed citizen authority – approved the project’s site development plan in March, despite neighbors crying out that it is inconsistent with the IDO and could also threaten the wetland ecosystem.
Tom Gulley, who lives in the nearby Andalusia subdivision, and the Taylor Ranch Neighborhood Association each quickly appealed the EPC’s decision.
Gulley argued that Gamma’s proposal for the property included two separate cluster developments instead of one, thereby circumventing restrictions on the number of homes that can be built.
Meanwhile, the TRNA appeal listed 32 reasons for disputing the permit, including that the developer’s analysis of “sensitive areas” was inadequate and that its plan “does not take into account the erosion of the sand bluff in the southeastern area of the site”.
A land use hearing officer appointed by the city then heard the case and recommended that the council decline the appeal. In his 35-page statement, he wrote that two cluster developments are classified as illegal, “that the language must be read into the IDO that is otherwise not available”, and that the IDO does not expressly prohibit this.
At Monday’s meeting, Councilor Diane Gibson suggested supporting the official’s recommendation, saying she understood opponents’ objections to the development of a “special area” but should not replace the law.
“I can’t make an emotional decision. We have to follow the laws. … It sounds like everyone did their part and answered all of the complainants’ questions and objections fairly effectively, ”she said.
But Gibson’s motion failed in a split vote, and Sanchez then put forward a proposal to bring the matter to the council.
“I just feel like there is so much uncertainty and reading the IDO doesn’t mean it is possible,” he said.
Brian McCarthy, co-owner of Gamma, said the land use hearing officer’s recent finding is in line with previous levels of review by the city staff and the EPC.
“We were impressed with the thoroughness of the LUHO report and agree with the results of the LUHO,” McCarthy said in an email to the Journal. “Nonetheless, we appreciate that the city council wants to proceed with caution and careful consideration.”
Gulley described the action on Monday evening as pleasantly surprising, as he had expected the council to “stamp” the earlier approval decisions. He thought it was a “total victory” but said he had no sense of how the council would ultimately govern.
“I’m glad they scheduled a full hearing, (but) I have no idea what they’re going to do next,” he said.
The city council is the final zoning authority in the city and will lead the case in what is called a “court-like” role that Planning Director David Campbell called it. However, an appeal can be lodged with the district court against his decisions.
The council will not hold such a hearing until August, as the panel is on hiatus in July. Campbell said the possible outcomes vary; The council could confirm EPC approval or reject the development site map, but it could also send the matter back to the EPC for further review.