The Candlelight Neighborhood Association announced Thursday it has filed a court appeal of what it calls the city of Santa Fe’s “quasi-judicial” process for reviewing land-use applications.

The association said in a news release it is challenging the City Council’s approval of the 384-unit Zia Station development in the state’s First Judicial District Court, alleging the approval process blocked the public from participating in land-use decisions by cutting off communication with city councilors.

A copy of the appeal was unavailable Thursday afternoon.

The project, which will rise near the Rail Runner Express commuter train’s Zia Station at the intersection of South St. Francis Drive and West Zia Road, was proposed by developer SF Brown/Zia Station LLC.

The City Council approved the 21-acre mixed-use project April 8 during a seven-hour meeting, despite complaints from some neighbors over the development’s effect on nearby neighborhoods.

The project did have supporters who applauded the arrival of additional housing to help quell the city’s housing woes.

The Zia Station development includes 39 affordably priced units at the site, as well as a fee of about $150,000 to the city’s Affordable Housing Trust Fund. The affordable units would be offered below the market rate for a period of 10 years.

Candlelight Neighborhood Association President Ed “Aku” Oppenheimer said the association does not have a problem with the development but opposes the process used to approve it.

“We’re not appealing the development in any way,” Oppenheimer said in an interview. “We’re appealing the processes that the city used to arrive at its approvals, which the city is now using increasingly to arrive at its conclusions of land-use variance issues.”

The city attorney could not be reached for comment on the appeal.

Oppenheimer said the neighborhood association also is concerned about the city’s decision to exempt the project from height limits in what is known as the South-Central Highway Corridor.

“We are appealing to dispute the various injustices in a process that allows for distorted, over-representation by developers and inadequate representation for residents, while encouraging the cavalier dispensing of established ordinances that are designed for the protection of residents and the character of our city,” Oppenheimer said in a prepared statement.

(17) comments

William Mee

This arises out of a case that went to the N.M. Supreme Court: Albuquerque Commons versus the City of Albuquerque. Albuquerque Commons was a apartment complex developer who felt his freedom of speech was impacted in City public meetings and therefore the City when it denied his case was devoid of all the facts. He felt that the 5 minutes given to him and then the 5 minutes given to each president of a neighborhood association was unfair. That they neighborhoods really weren't sworn to the truth and were too numerous for the City Councilors to deny time to. That as voters they had more sway then the developer---therefore at a certain point in time their Ex Party Communications had to be muzzled and especially in a period when the City Council sat as a quasi-judicial body. So this case had statewide implications. The Santa Fe Neighborhood Network sponsors the Santa Fe Law Center which teaches lawyers and gives them Continuing Credits. Many of the presenters at these trainings are paid by developers to represent them in their normal legal profession. So that what was taught was the Neighborhoods need to be muzzled because it interferes with making money. Two and three minute speaking limits at County and Commission meetings, reports of any contacts with neighborhoods to the City and County Attorneys and other restrictions to the point that a county resident who only has a County Commissioner to represent their interests has taxation without representation.

the City Council meetings, and to some extent the County Commission meetings, are becoming more and more inaccessible to citizens. There are some things that should probably be challenged in court on a Freedom of Speech basis. You are unable to see the "audience" so you don't know if all your people from your neighborhood turned out---because you could call them quick to participate. You are muted, which is fine, but "Chat" and "Q&A" are disabled to you. Any handouts must be delivered to the staff 72 hours in advance, which is often hard to do for a non-profit board to vote on it, revise it and publish it. The developer or City staff get to use fancy graphics and pointers through screen sharing. Speaking times are limited to two minutes for citizens and only the developer gets rebuttals. Already the two Early Neighborhood Notifications have been cut to one that guarantees any meeting to be "adversarial" instead of compromissorial.

Stefanie Beninato

Any development that needs five exceptions/changes to the Master Plan is asking for special treatment. The idea that the developer could not afford to develop it any other way--raises the need for financial information. Despite the fact the city was waiving five rules/ordinances, the city could not require the developer to prove the financial hardship---all we got to listen to was the developer's mouthpiece's beliefs about what the developer could afford. If it is a quasi judicial hearing--more than belief should be required to prove the financial impossibility of making the development lower. The city is going backwards IMHO--making exceptions rather than systematically rethinking the whole body of land use ordinances/policies etc. and then seeing if this development fits into the plan developed by the community and for the community's good.

Lupe Molina

Special treatment and well-reasoned, justified exceptions are totally legal though. I agree that they should make more systemic changes but how do we think that is going to go when associations go as far to file suits for something that's a done deal? Neighborhood associations are losing social capital with this. They might as well open a glue factory with such dedication towards beating dead horses.

Stefanie Beninato

The problem was that it was a done deal before it went to the planning commission let alone council. I think the neighborhood should be upset about it. Not all development is for the greater good. And exceptions based on facts would be OK but not based on beliefs.

Maria Bautista


Maria Bautista

Lupe, a dead horse was beaten for your freedom.

Barry Rabkin

I'd bet 'dollars to donuts' the suit will either be tossed or the plaintiffs will lose.

LeRoy Sanchez

So true!

Maria Bautista

Perhaps, so vote out the system.

Daniel Werwath

Interest angle for a suit, especially given the multiple opportunities for public input baked into the quasi-judicial process. The quasi-judicial process (think, like a court case) is a class of land use hearings, not a decision on the city's part to treat a case a certain way. It is designed to make sure that the law is evenly applied, that Councilors are voting with the same set of information, and that there are no violations of the State open meetings act. It protects land use process from undue influence from developers, who could otherwise lobby councilors (even theoretically hire political operatives to lobby them) directly about project approvals.

Dennis Romero

Daniel - interesting perspective. Thank you. I'd simply say that it sounds like the area residents didn't think the hearing and approval process was fair, and they are doing something about it, which is within their rights. Here's a portion of the article I found very interesting:

'Candlelight Neighborhood Association President Ed “Aku” Oppenheimer said the association does not have a problem with the development but opposes the process used to approve it.

“We’re not appealing the development in any way,” Oppenheimer said in an interview. “We’re appealing the processes that the city used to arrive at its approvals, which the city is now using increasingly to arrive at its conclusions of land-use variance issues.”

The city attorney could not be reached for comment on the appeal.'

Again, sounds like area residents had an issue with it, and with the city attorney not making time to return a reporter's request for comment, makes me think, rightly or wrongly, perhaps the residents have a point. Since I haven't read the appeal being filed, and this sounds like an issue where details are very relevant, that's about all I think I should say, other than, the residents are within their rights to appeal. Whether a judge finds validity in their filing, or not, is a different story.

Lupe Molina

I think you're reading into it too much. Most likely is that the attorney did not have time to respond before the article went to print. It's pretty common with most papers but definitely this one. Alternatively, the city attorney may just not want to comment on something in open litigation, especially something kind of silly like this.

Dennis Romero

I'm not reading anything into anything. I'm an employee with an NM Municipality. A member of the media calls or contacts me, I respond immediately. Disclaimer - I'm on leave this week and replying to this and other posts on my personal time.

Dennis Romero

As far as you terming the neighborhood association's filing "silly," I haven't read it, so I won't comment. If you've read it, by all means, please feel free to comment. Whether or not the appeal has merit is up to a judge. Nobody else.

Maria Bautista

The city attorney is an unqualified attorney, a republican at that....

LeRoy Sanchez

Actually, lot of the residents are happy with this development.

Maria Bautista

Dan Werwath, Mr. Poverty Pimp. First MIX, but you grew too old, then alcohol at city parks, then housing for 17 years, still no affordable housing? And as you retire I am sure you'll become leader of the gray panthers. still no housing!!

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