Tranquility awaits retired teacher Lorraine Mendiola when she steps into her backyard in south-central Santa Fe.

“I see mountains. I see open space. I see peace and a peaceful neighborhood,” said Mendiola, who has lived in her home in the Candlelight neighborhood for nearly 18 years.

But now Mendiola worries her serenity is under threat by a massive mixed-use development project being proposed on both sides of Zia Road, just west of St. Francis Drive.

“I don’t want anything in my backyard, but that’s where it’s going to be,” said Mendiola, whose home on Candelero Street would abut the north parcel of the proposed 21-acre development.

Plans to build on the site come as no surprise to neighbors: A mixed-use, transit-oriented development project has long been envisioned on the property, which includes access to a so-called kiss-and-ride commuter train station. But the scale and density of what developers are bringing forward and the traffic it would generate are sparking stiff opposition from some neighbors, especially among longtime homeowners who say the intersection of Zia and St. Francis is already a congestion nightmare.

110620_VacantLotDEvelopment004

An empty lot near the intersection of Zia Road and St. Francis Drive where developers hope to expand the Candlelight neighborhood.

‘We’re critically concerned’

The project is expected to nearly double the size of the long-standing neighborhood of about 413 households within the next decade.

Plans call for a total of 392 rental units — 364 apartments and 28 townhomes — as well as a combined 120,000 square feet of commercial and office space.

All the buildings would be two or three stories high under the proposal, which is expected to be formally submitted to the city of Santa Fe’s Land Use Department later this month.

“We would tentatively be heard by the Planning Commission on Jan. 7, and … we would shoot for a City Council hearing on Feb. 24,” Jennifer Jenkins, principal at JenkinsGavin Inc., a Santa Fe-based development management firm representing the developers and property owners, said during an early neighborhood notification meeting conducted via Zoom in late October.

The neighborhood notification is among the first steps in the approval process. Plans are in the works for another such meeting after internet problems cut the last one short.

Under the proposal, the 12.1-acre north parcel, slated to be the first phase of construction, would be entirely residential. It would include 14 townhomes along the western edge of the property, immediately adjacent to the existing neighborhood and 244 apartments — the vast majority of which would have one bedroom.

The 8.9-acre parcel to the south, which includes the New Mexico Rail Runner Express Zia Station, also calls for an additional 14 townhomes, plus 120 apartments, 84,000 square feet of office space and 36,000 square feet of commercial space.

“We already have people reaching out to us expressing interest in locating there, whether it’s an office user or a restaurant user or cafe,” Jenkins told neighbors last month. “I’ve been hearing a lot from the neighborhood that everybody wants to make sure we’ve got a coffee shop, so we are really talking to our local coffee purveyors. We’d really like to have a local purveyor there.”

But whether a plan on paper turns into bricks and mortar remains to be seen, as the project faces several hurdles.

Neighbors wary of developer requests

As proposed, the development would require numerous approvals that some area residents contend are only designed to maximize profits and don’t take the existing neighborhood into consideration. While some neighbors are generally in favor of the project, others say the proposal on the table is much bigger and denser than they ever anticipated.

“We’re critically concerned that what the developer is doing to develop this — and this is the single most important point I can distill — is trying to remove every restriction that is possible to be removed as nearly as we can tell,” said Aku Oppenheimer, vice president of the Candlelight Neighborhood Association.

Developers plan to request general plan amendments to change the land use designation of the north parcel from low density to high density residential, and also to change a portion of the south parcel from low density residential to transitional mixed use.

More concerning for some area residents is a request for a rezoning to what is known as a planned unit development, or PUD, which they fear would give developers carte blanche over the property, as well as a request to remove the property from the South-Central Highway Corridor District.

According to the city code, the district establishes “a clear sense of visual openness and continuity of development as seen from major highway entrances to Santa Fe,” among other guidelines. For example, the maximum height of structures in the district is 25 feet.

“The … district overlay specifies setbacks, heights and many, many other details that involve what the area looks like to motorists and the viewscape, the mountains, the sky, the works,” Oppenheimer said. “It has a tremendous effect on the look and the feel of Santa Fe as you come into it.”

Jenkins told neighbors last month new circumstances were at play.

“The overlay was established in 1985,” she said. “At that time, there was no way anyone could anticipate the fact that there would be a commuter rail station in this location, and so we feel that the overlay is really inconsistent with the type of element that is warranted with respect to this transition from the existing neighborhood to the west to the state highway that is St. Francis Drive and also with respect to the commuter rail.”

In a telephone interview Friday, Jenkins reiterated the overlay didn’t take a commuter train station into account.

Though some neighbors are concerned a rezoning to a PUD would allow development to go unfettered, Jenkins said it would “limit and restrict and define what is permissible for these parcels.”

“We will be governed by a development plan that has been approved by the City Council,” she said. “If we want to deviate in any significant way from that development plan, guess where we are? We’re back in front of City Council.”

PossibleLede_110620_VacantLotDEvelopment003

An empty lot near the intersection of Zia Road and St. Francis Drive where developers hope to expand the Candlelight neighborhood.

Timelines and traffic impacts

The developers and property owners are listed as Zia Station LLC, of which Santa Fe developer Merritt Brown is a partner, and Aberg Property Co., which is partnering with Brown’s firm, SF Brown, to develop the proposed apartments on the north parcel.

Requests for approval of the project come as the city of Santa Fe continues to grapple with a housing shortage.

“If we are successful in the rezone request, then we would move forward with a final development plan application for the multifamily portion — not necessarily the townhomes immediately — but for the multifamily portion [on the north parcel] this spring,” Jenkins said during the virtual meeting with neighbors.

Construction of the south parcel would be largely market-driven, she said.

“The south side is harder to nail down, but I would anticipate that the entire project would be built out and occupied within the next, probably, seven to 10 years,” Jenkins said, eliciting comments of shock and surprise from neighbors attending the meeting.

“Oh my gosh,” a man said.

“Holy [expletive],” a woman blurted out.

The development plan includes a slew of roadway changes that Jenkins said would improve the flow of traffic on Zia and St. Francis, which is often congested during the morning and afternoon peak hours.

Proposed roadway improvements include realigning Galisteo Road farther west, converting the two left-turn lanes from Zia onto St. Francis to three lanes and constructing a westbound left-turn lane at Candelero to allow for U-turns, which some neighbors believe would lead to accidents.

Jenkins said the development team worked “very closely” with the city’s land use and public works departments to devise the proposed roadway improvements.

“Currently, the intersection at St. Francis and Zia does not operate at acceptable levels of service,” Jenkins said. “With the proposed improvements, we have been able to mitigate all of the failing levels of service.”

Jenkins said Friday a traffic study, which will become public when a formal application is submitted, is in the final stages.

“The results are even better than we thought they would be,” she said.

Mixed opinions on mixed-use project

While some residents are skeptical and say they want to see the traffic study, others are eager for the development to get off the ground.

“I think this project is a valuable addition to the Santa Fe community,” one area resident wrote in the chat function of the Zoom meeting. “The city needs more housing. This is one of the best sites for new apartments being next to the [Rail Runner] stop.”

Longtime Candlelight homeowner LeRoy N. Sanchez said he likes the concept of being able to walk to a restaurant or coffee shop. Though he’s concerned about traffic and the scale and density of the proposed development, Sanchez said the project could be good for the neighborhood.

“We’re older people that live in here, and I want younger people to live in the neighborhood, too,” said Sanchez, 73. “I want more diversity.”

Mendiola, the retired teacher, said she wouldn’t mind the construction of single-family homes. She called the proposed project “too much” and “too dense.”

“It’s going to destroy the neighborhood and cause a lot of traffic problems,” she said. “Traffic is really bad as it is right now.”

Others say development on the property is inevitable and that area residents should work to obtain conditions of approval that would protect the neighborhood.

“Something is going to be developed at that corner, and I’m generally supportive of what they have proposed so far,” Anne Watkins said. “I like the landscaping. I like the Santa Fe-style look. I like their effort to deal with the traffic problems.”

Watkins, however, said she “remains a bit concerned” about the proposed density and how it will affect traffic.

“I want to make sure that … the traffic changes that are proposed make sense and are workable, and especially, I want to make sure that those traffic changes happen before the development starts pouring people out onto the street,” she said.

Oppenheimer, the neighborhood association’s vice president, isn’t sold on what the development team is proposing.

“It really is hard for us to imagine what the traffic and safety issues are even going to be, despite whatever traffic plan they have,” he said.

“They want the minimum setback, and they want the maximum height, so they want to maximize all possibilities,” he added. “Is this really a mixed-use community or is it something that is so free to be developed to the maximum?”

Follow Daniel J. Chacón on Twitter @danieljchacon.

(35) comments

Randy Jackson

The first 8 or 10 houses on Candelero St. are looking a $20K drop in value, at least.

Craig Meyer

Townhomes and apartments, mostly one bedroom. That's a lot of Airbnb stock.

Donato Velasco

growing pains for the east side of portland-santa fe..

Mari Metzgar

I live near this intersection, so here are my questions to the increase in traffic 1) Is the Rail Runner going to include more departure times into ABQ if this happens? If not, the current schedule is not convenient for going to ABQ and coming back to SF. So don't sell the idea of a Rail Runner stop as an advantage. 2) When will the St. Francis South 1-25 freeway entrance become 2 lanes (middle and right) merging onto the freeway. The current backup in traffic in the right lane is crazy with everyone trying to go South from one lane. 3)Crossing St. Francis on foot to go to any of the shops would be taking your life into your hands. Will an overhead crosswalk be built? I know there is the underground pass beyond Zia/St Francis, but it is inconvenient to get to.

Robert Bartlett

This looks like a great project for all the people of Santa Fe. The greatest factor in its ultimate success will be proper policing. Then the area will be safe for kids, people will get to know each other through their kids and a community can come together. Every effort should be made to get our current and new police officers into homes in the development. Oh, and please put up a few statues of people who walked here before.

Carolyn DM

And of course there is no mention of affordable housing which people in this town so desperately need. The city needs to enforce their regulations instead of letting these developers skirt the rules by paying a large fee, AKA bribe!!

Daniel Werwath

I'll chock this up to another failure in coverage by the New Mex, but all new homeownership projects are subject to a 20% affordability requirement WHICH THEY AREN'T ALLOWED TO PAY OUT OF. Rental projects have multiple ways to comply, including paying a fee which is going up 30% a year for the next three years and is dedicated to our affordable housing trust fund. There is a baseline of affordable housing in all new development.

Devin Bent

Water? We don't need no d%^n water! Climate change? What's that?

How can the New Mexican write an article about a massive development and not mention the ever decreasing amount of water due to the ever increasing rate of evaporation of water from our lakes, rivers, and mountain tops? The New Mexican is very liberal and ultra-concerned with climate change -- but seems to develop amnesia when it comes to housing and water.

For a long time, the New Mexican simply did mention the Aamodt controversy. That embargo seems to have ended now that Aamodt is a done deal. Now will we have a new embargo: housing and water will not be mentioned in the same article? I hope the New Mexican proves me wrong with a long, thoughtful, carefully researched article on how Santa Fe will respond to the ever decreasing supply of water.

Devin Bent

Sorry, the first sentence of the 2nd paragraph should read "For a long time, the New Mexican simply did NOT mention the Aamodt controversy."

Daniel Werwath

Devin- are you aware that developers are required to provide water rights for all development with the exception of affordable units, which are covered by the city's bank of water rights?

Rob Morlino

I appreciate the views expressed here but this story is incomplete. How can this issue be reported on without a single voice of the thousands who have already been displaced by this housing crisis? What about those hundreds of working Santa Feans that, despite having a full-time job, cannot afford to live in this city? Shouldn't we include some of those perspectives as well? Telling the story in them is like recounting the Battle of Troy without mentioning any Greeks.

David Ford

I agree to a certain extent Rob. After all the Rail Runner Train was, in part, created to accommodate the large number of state employees who lived in ABQ and for those of that group who couldn't afford to live here.

A variety of housing options does create a community and/or society of diversity which is critical to create a healthy environment and options for all, not just for housing but retail, shopping, entertainment, etc. How boring would it be to have SF look all like the Northeast, or the Southwest, or Eldorado?

However, as with the Northwest Housing Project that was considered years ago there will always be the big question as others have pointed out here....WATER.

At some point WATER must be considered from all angles of capacity for usage and waste.

When I moved here 14 years ago one of the first bumper stickers I remember stated :

"I'll reduce my water usage when Las Campanas stops watering their golf course". Which brings to mind the issue of community compliance of how to get everyone on board for saving our natural resources to benefit all. Seems like if one can afford the water or afford the gas then they are less likely to be on board for conservation, and that should not be the driving factor.

Lupe Molina

Thanks, David. And your overall point is great, we all need water. But that's an omnipresent problem, we live in the desert. Why is that the lynchpin issue right here right now? There are a lot of uses of water in the area. Affordable housing is a very important need. The economic future of this city is not bright if working people with full-time jobs cannot afford to live here. Shouldn't we find other ways to preserve water usage that doesn't pull the rug out from some of our most vulnerable neighbors? This seems like an unreasonable ultimatum. We can, and should, do better.

Shawn Chafins

Nice post David.

Rob Morlino

Telling this story without them*

Joan Conrow

Rob, no, it should have included information from the developer on what these places are expected to rent/sell for. What makes you think any of those hundreds of working Santa Feans will be able to afford anything in this project? The last project this developer built is renting apartments for $1500 for under 800 square feet. Who can afford that?

Rob Morlino

There is an inverse relationship between the supply and prices of goods and services when demand is unchanged. If there is an increase in supply for goods and services while demand remains the same, prices tend to fall to a lower equilibrium price and a higher equilibrium quantity of goods and services.

This isn't the last project by this developer. This is this project.

Stefanie Beninato

[thumbup]

Gustavo Seluja

These are massive proposals. They will alter the landscape and the feeling of the place forever. There is something to behold when you step on the train track trail right there, to walk, jog, ride your bike, or simply when driving by and have the unimpended and inspiring East-West view of Santa Fe. I agree with the opinion here regarding the apartment complex built behind the Natural Grocers' store new location, as a perfect example. One huge chunk of my mental photograph, looking West towards the Jemez Mountains when driving North on St. Francis Drive, is forever gone. Do people know how much it costs to rent these apartments? Candlelight, where we used to live, is a sweet neighborhood, and the feeling of openness has a lot to do with it. I do understand the locals are being pushed out, like to Rio Rancho, for instance (even Rio Rancho is expensive now). But at the price point that these units will be offered, could they even afford it? For them, it won't change a thing, because Santa Fe has now been "discovered". This is the 21st century version of the reconquest of Santa Fe. Adios beautiful Santa Fe, Nuevo Mexico.

Jacob Alvarado

Honestly, I'm at a loss for what to do about santafesinos being pushed out of Santa Fe and into Albuquerque and Rio Rancho. What do we do when we can no longer afford to live in our own city, and how do we hold the city leadership accountable for that?

We need housing to exist in Santa Fe if we want to be able to continue living here, and in that way we need development. And that doesn't just mean cheaply constructed ultra-apartment complexes pushed into the Southside along Airport Road. Nobody raises vocal concerns about their neighborhoods and complains about the 'nature of Santa Fe' when developers build cheap, uninteresting apartment blocks along Airport Road.

Housing needs to be equitable, and that starts with allowing development of affordable housing in all parts of the city, not just the Southside, and allowing housing to be constructed in the first place. The first quality of a good city is what housing it offers its residents, and Santa Fe is failing us in this regard. And it's at the whims of wealthy transplants who don't care about the people of Santa Fe and only about themselves.

Stefanie Beninato

[thumbup]

Joan Conrow

As someone who lives in Candlelight, I am alarmed and dismayed by the density of this project and the traffic impacts that will adversely affect everyone who uses Zia and Rodeo. The developer wants the world but is giving the Candlelight community nothing in return. A coffee shop isn't worth the impacts. And don't kid yourself these rentals will be affordable to those who need them. It also was disturbing to see the supportive stance that a certain planner expressed toward Jenkins during her neighborhood presentation. It felt like he was more interested in pleasing her than addressing the needs of the residents and larger community. Let's hope the planning commission and city council will exercise good judgment and scale this thing way back.

Nicoletta Munroe

I think that we should move in the opposite direction of development on Saint Francis Drive. The road itself is too urban, and should be narrowed and slowed significantly. Santa Fe itself is getting too built up. Where is the water for these new projects? We need to scale back, conserve resources, curb the quest for profit. Developers need to think about rehabilitating the structures that we have here. No one thrives in an apartment. It is a sad existence that leads to despair. The project is inhumane.

Kathy Fish

Brava to the residents of the Candlelight neighborhood for standing up for their rights - and for the integrity of this city. JJ Set brings up a great point - where's the water for this massive project coming from? Beyond that, who's condoning 3-story buildings, crammed-in apartments, and dangerous traffic increases? Let's think responsibly, for the long term. Solidarity to all those affected by this reckless impending project - you do have the capacity to fight this, and fellow Santa Feans are on your side.

Daniel Werwath

We are facing an unprecedented wave of gentrifications with people relocating to Santa Fe. And if we don't build new housing, they WILL displace locals. We really can't afford to have the New Mexican continue to uncritically publish counterfactual arguments about housing development. It hurts our community. Please show me the place where an infill development destroyed a neighborhood with traffic, I'll wait. Taking the bait on these tired arguments long relied on (and rewarded) by the no-growth mafia in this town keeps us from having substantive conversations about how growth and development can address social, environmental and amenities issues in our neighborhoods. We need to have more complex and nuanced conversations about growth and development, but we can't do that as long as our local paper is more comfortable (and rewarded for) inflaming controversy and minority voices.

Stephen Rubin

The growth is happening indeed already. I just haven't seen anything yet that is either desirable nor affordable to locals. In short I'd say when I moved here in the 90s over half my life ago i left intentionally normal coastal city life behind with pleasure and moved in.. What I've seen in recent years and months enen is urban people mostly from coasts and Midwest which as you say is inevitable moving ON and bringing giant tall to me ugly soulless pre fab fake barely santa fe looking view blocking traffic making profit driven careless giant complexes.. One already in this hood and another seeming to be developed close.. As the article says... Something I'd been saying of these and the one off Cordova.. These seem to barely pass the codes that kept our skyline and town being special.. That appears to be getting violated rapidly and at the benefit of developers pockets and perhaps some city officials... Idk whom but it's not current residents and its a giant bummer... But idk how it can be guided into developments less huge less tall for sure and more respectful. Hope someone can but recent history shows otherwise. I like being wrong

Daniel Werwath

There are affordable development, and the project on Cordova paid hundreds of thousand dollars into our affordable housing trust fund, which helped projects like Siler Yard and La Resolana (two income restricted rental projects being built right now). Yes, those apartments on Cordova aren't the best looking, but you know, neither are the strip malls on either side, or the walgreens, or the state office buildings, so I'm not sure we've got much claim to aesthetic impact in that neighborhood. As for views, I'm just going to say that your right to 3 second view driving down Cordova is not more important that people having housing. Also, there's a larger supply and demand issue at work here, if we don't build enough new housing, locals WILL get priced out. Period. We also need to build denser, more energy efficient housing. So we need to figure out how to build at that scale in a way that more amenable to the community.

Stefanie Beninato

It seems, Daniel, you are so pro development that you lose perspective. The developer at Cordova Rd paid on average $7000 per unit...so that puts it at less than $100K for affordable housing--given all the regs how many units does that get? Certainly not 15 percent of the units that are in the development which is the other way to fulfill affordable housing requirements.

And your statement about developers needing to bring water to the development--true but often that water is paper water not wet water....It is all a game of number running and paper shuffling. You seem to ignore the negative impacts on our community because you are part of that development crowd...whether you work in affordable housing or not. I have never heard you call for an increase for the fee in lieu of for example which is absurdly low. Thirty percent increase every year will be decades before the fee becomes significant enough to be a real contributor to affordable developments.

Jacob Alvarado

Thank you! This needs to be said louder and more clear for everybody. We can't continue letting Santa Feans be kicked out of their own city where they've lived for generations. City leadership has already failed us in this regard, and we can't continue to let it happen. It comes to a point where we have to ask of development naysayers in this city: do you care more about the community or your own interests?

Stefanie Beninato

I would point to the apartments on Cordova and Pen Rd as an example of why you should not trust a development shepherded by Jennifer Jenkins. It is an ugly massive 4 story structure that looks like anywhere USA. At the Early Neighborhood meeting (ENN) the plans were for a building at the level of Penn Rd. There was to be a big outdoor deck to break up the mass of the ONE building...No such deck and the side facing Penn Rd was raised by 3 ft thus obscuring even more of any possible views for the public. And then there is the SPA that Jenkins never mentioned in the ENN that was an absolute essential--probably replaces the deck.

Railyard Flats apts--another Jenkins shepherded development, I see signs for condos for sale. They seem to point to the condos since there are no other living spaces available there--unless they are talking about renting a commercial condo space somewhere else in the Railyard.

These apts will be "market rate"....At the Railyard Flats a 450 sq ft studio went for $900/month when it first opened. Oh and the line about not needing as much parking as required by zoning because it is so near the RR that people will commute or use the bike trail....Dream on!!! The apt at these locations are really beyond market rate

I would imagine since profit is the motive that the apartments and townhouses will be beyond the means of those who have been forced to live in Rio Rancho and other places outside of town. One bedroom apts are great for singles or couples but they will not bring families to the area. Webber's administration seems to have never seen a development it does not like. And yes, traffic is definitely heavy and backs up at this intersection so that turning right from St Francis in the N bound lane can mean you are at a stop in a moving traffic lane because the turn lane cannot handle the number of people especially when the Roadrunner closes the intersection long before it gets to the Zia station from the South and long after it has arrived at the station from the North. That does not happen at Cordova (So Capitol station). And at Pacheco and St Mikes, they got the PC and then Council to approve massive height exceptions that went against the corridor protections with city staff not applying the law as written.

David Brooks

not really against development or "progress" BUT that intersection with a RR crossing nearby already has nasty traffic problems and sees more than its fair share of accidents. more development density is likely to increase it. Personally I'll avoid that intersection as much as possiboe

JJ Set

Where's the water coming from for all this new development? Just wondering, as it's never a topic, that was so vigorously considered in the decades. It's not an endless resource ya know!

Bill Roth

It is a topic currently as a matter of fact. Big issue is. the return flow of treated water back to the rio grande. Insuring there is an adequate supply is part of the land use code. Any large scale project such as this is required to supply water use offsets in the form of water rights. If water conservation is a concern of yours, as it is of mine, I would look to see if the city water conservation committee is currently meeting (most likely by zoom) and plan on "attending". Iits where the nuts and bolts work on the cities water policy takes place.

Lucy Greer

[thumbup]

Jacob Alvarado

If you're concerned about water (which you should be!), maybe we shouldn't be looking towards apartment and multifamily dwelling complexes to scapegoat about, given that they use much less water on average than a typical household. Who we should be looking toward are the large, expensive houses on the Eastside and in the hills. Mayor Webber's own fancy house uses 54,000 gallons of water per month. That is ten times the typical Santa Fe household. Who do we hold accountable, normal, working Santa Feans or wasteful wealthy homeowners, including our own Mayor?

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