Residents who live near the site of a planned development at Zia Road and St. Francis Drive argued in court Tuesday the Santa Fe City Council’s speedy approval process allowed too little time for adequate public input, stifling voices of people with concerns about the project.
An attorney representing the developer countered there was plenty of opportunity for neighbors to weigh in. Sending the project back to the council for a do-over, as the opponents suggested, Frank Herdman said, would be a “colossal waste of time.”
State District Judge Kathleen McGarry Ellenwood heard arguments on an appeal of the Zia Station development, filed in May by the Candlelight Neighborhood Association. But she didn’t rule on the issue.
McGarry Ellenwood said she was acting as an appellate court in the case and was obligated to review the record of the proceeding before making a decision. She did not say when that might occur.
Zia Station, which the council approved April 8, would include 384 housing units, at least 39 of which would be designated “affordable” and offered at below-market-rate rents for at least
10 years. The project, proposed by developer SF Brown/Zia Station LLC, would be built near the Rail Runner Express commuter train’s Zia Station.
Candlelight Neighborhood Association President Ed “Aku” Oppenheimer has said in the past the group does not have a problem with the development but opposes the process used to approve it.
The group’s attorney, Jenica Jacobi, told the judge Tuesday the neighbors felt the public was at a disadvantage at the remote public hearing April 8, when the development was discussed and approved by the council, because of limits on speaking time and because they could not appear on camera or share documents on their computer screens.
The project’s representatives were allowed to do so, she noted.
Jacobi said the two-minute time frame imposed on speakers from the public might have been sufficient if the project weren’t so complex.
But, she said, given the project’s approval required five zoning changes and exclusion from a 25-foot height cap in an area known as the South-Central Highway Corridor, created in 1986 to preserve sight lines, the time wasn’t enough.
“There is no way that
24 seconds per application can meet constitutional standards for due process or provide any meaningful opportunity to be heard,” Jacobi said.
“What the city and developer is saying is if it’s complicated and you are tired, you should be able to cut corners ... but the more significant the issues, the more complicated the issues, the more important it is to be heard,” she added.
Herdman said the public had multiple opportunities to provide input before the council’s two-day, 11-hour hearing in which the project was approved, including two early neighborhood notification meetings and a Planning Commission meeting.
City councilors reviewed more than 600 pages of written comments submitted on the proposed development and even asked some opponents of the project — including Candlelight Neighborhood Association members — specific follow-up questions about their objections, he said.
“You cannot overlook how incredibly comprehensive this process was,” Herdman argued.
Her asked the judge to deny the association’s appeal “so this project and the housing it would bring our community can go forward.”