“…the people who are going to be affected are watching, and asking, ‘when will one of these institutions protect us?’”
Roberto Roibal, Southwest Organizing Project
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Today, parties were notified that state District Court Judge Nancy Franchini ruled against Santolina developer Western Albuquerque Land Holdings (WALH) in its effort to shut down an appeal by three public-interest groups. The judge’s decision allows the public-interest groups and individuals to pursue their appeal of the Level A Master Plan and zoning change for the proposed mega-development.
The SouthWest Organizing Project (SWOP), Pajarito Village Association and New Mexico Health Equity Working Group appealed the decision to the Second District Court of New Mexico last year. The groups are represented by the non-profit New Mexico Environmental Law Center (NMELC).
Two days after a hearing on WALH’s motions of ripeness and standing, Judge Franchini denied the developer’s motion asserting that the case is not yet ripe for challenge by the appellants. In addition, the Judge denied the developer’s motion asserting that the appellants, the SWOP, Pajarito Village Association and three individuals, did not have standing to bring the case against the County. Judge Franchini granted WALH’s motion that the New Mexico Health Equity Working Group did not have standing. The judge did not consider the substantive issues raised in the appeal.
“Hundreds of community members have spoken out against the Santolina development over the past two years,” says Roberto Roibal of SWOP, “only to be met with the developers’ half-baked presentations and misleading statements. The project continues to fly through county hearings, all the while, and the people who are going to be affected are watching, and asking, ‘when will one of these institutions protect us?’.”
The Bernalillo County Commission, on a vote of 3-2, adopted the Level A Master Plan on June 16, 2015. Appellants had numerous issues with the Level A approvals that they wished to raise with the court, including:
- a conflict of interest on the part of Commissioner Art de la Cruz, who authored an op-ed in favor of the development before public hearings commenced;
- a failure by the developer to demonstrate that Santolina has obtained legal and physical water; and
- a failure by the developer to demonstrate that Santolina can be built at no net expense to existing taxpayers.
“We believe that there were numerous flaws with the process by which the Bernalillo County Commission adopted the Level A Master Plan for Santolina,” says Douglas Meiklejohn, NMELC Executive Director and an attorney handling the case. “We and our clients look forward to returning to court to make our argument.”
Concurrently with the court hearing, the Bernalillo County Planning Commission held a hearing on transportation issues in Santolina’s proposed Level B Master Plan. Two additional hearings on the Level B Master Plan are scheduled for May and June; SWOP is advocating that the Commission hold a fifth hearing to deal with economic issues, including the nearly $3 billion in subsidies knows as “Tax Increment Development Districts,” (“TIDDs”) and Public Improvement Districts (“PIDs”) that have been requested by WALH.
Santolina is a 90,000+ person development proposed for 22 square acres of Bernalillo County on the western edge of Albuquerque. Four hearings were held by the Bernalillo County Commission in 2015, resulting in the adoption of the Level A Master Plan for the development, as well as a change to the zoning map that encompasses the Santolina property. An overwhelming number of residents who testified before the Commission asked the Commission to deny the Level A Master Plan.
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