An empty lot is next to the Zia Road train station near South St. Francis Drive. The City Council has approved plans for a 21-acre, three-story mixed-use project dubbed Zia Station.

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.”

(15) comments

Marlow Morrison

I see a large number of comments are about the proposed development. That’s not what Candlelight filed a law suit against.

The PROCESS during the Planning Commissioners hearing and the City Council hearing to present the community’s case on land use is extremely limited, including Quasi- judicial complications ( citizens are not allowed to speak with ANY of their elected representatives on either committee ( ever! during the entire process) and then your time to speak and present is limited to two minutes. Wait what!? It can take months to put together valid documents and relevant discussions on these complex issues, now present it two minutes without a power point. You have a better chance in speed dating forums.

Yes, HOA’s and individual citizens can add information to the packets but so does the applicant and they have a professional team committed to this.

Summary: if a community has concerns about land use then they will have no access to the members of elected city officials who represent them, then self representation it’s limited in a way that favors the applicant. You might think it isn’t not your problem… until it is. Planning of our neighborhoods and city is a diplomatic process, criticizing citizens for participating in it is counterproductive to the entire community’s health, well-being and quality of life. I really admire the Candlelight residents. It’s citizens like them who help keep balance in our political systems.

Mark Specter

That's what HOAs are supposed to do. They take all those fees so that the neighborhood can have advocacy for things like this and rival the developers team in influence. Two problems: HOAs are generally useless and horde money to ultimately do little with it. And, the number of people opposing it aren't that many. This neighborhood group, like all others, would have you believe that everyone hates more development nearby. Fact is, most people don't care but the NIMBYs sometimes get a little caught up in their own ideas that this is an injustice and inflate community support in their heads.

Marlow Morrison

NIMBY is a derogatory term created to undermined participation of citizens in city planning discussions. The use of it brings up the question of ones character, and the comments made are often lacking in substance and productive additions to the conversation.

Mark Specter

No, it just means "not on my back yard." The substance is that people want development that would contribute to growth, just not near them. That pretty well describes the opposition here. So don't get too wounded about it, it's a good descriptor. And the substance still does stand, it's a small group of folks opposing this who would like to seem bigger and more powerful than they are.

Lupe Molina

With our judges struggling to keep violent criminals in jail, I'm glad we are asking them to spend time on spurious lawsuits filed by an organizational nonentity based on the justification that they were here first. Someone needs to reel in these "neighborhood associations." They're costing us all a ton of money.

jarratt applewhite


Ernest Green

Some additional framing for those whom haven't been following this development for the last 13 years (yes, now more than a decade), there is no formal or legal neighborhood association of which these advocates claim to represent. Elected officers are of an informal nature among this group of homeowners, no bylaws or covenants exist. This association name is self-applied by the handful of homeowners seeking to delay and encumber the development and is intentionally misleading. The developers accommodated some of the neighborhood requests as did the city planning committee, there has been public input for years. All of this is well, well beyond matters of substance and has been a collection of nuisance filings and delay tactics for some time now. The overriding priority for homeowners in this area of town is the problems with the intersection at Zia/St Francis. The foot dragging from the planning commission is almost more of a dereliction than the bad faith efforts of the project's opponents.

Joan Conrow

Ernest, your statements are erroneous to a degree that a short online post is not worthwhile. Rather, please contact CNA President Aku Oppenheimer at candlelight-neighborhood-association@googlegroups.com so that the two of can agree on a time for a public Zoom meeting, open to all Santa Fe residents, in which you can state your views about our standing and appeal and he can present a rebuttal. This would be an important meeting for all neighborhood association officers in Santa Fe to attend because they are all affected by this issue. So please contact Aku, and let's schedule a conversation for the benefit of all residents! It's really important that we work with facts, rather than suppositions and misinformation.

jarratt applewhite


Jan Johnson

This proposal is a traffic nightmare, if it proceeds with 384 new units, at Zia and St. Francis! If you've ever been on Zia, headed west between 3 and 4 in the afternoon, you know how badly the traffic backs up - especially when the train stop shuts down the east/west traffic on Zia. Did anyone review traffic flow impact? I live near Rodeo and Galisteo so I'm aware of the current heavy flow of traffic in the area. I vote NO on this proposal!!

Charlotte Rowe

I think first an unbiased assessment needs to be made as to whether Santa Fe needs to be subjected to yet more high-density housing development in an area that is arguably a long way from most city services and safely accessible shopping (do we really want more pedestrians trying to cross over to the Albertson's / Walgreens / other merchants on the other side of St. Francis? Without a pedestrian bridge that's a recipe for disaster based on the callous disregard a lot of Santa Fe drivers have for pedestrians and the propensity for accidents just there). Then before ANYTHING gets approved, a comprehensive plan for traffic abatement and impacts and creative solutions for local transportation needs and impacts should be generated. Then and only then should this development even raise its questing little nose above the horizon. I live in Pueblos del Sol and would welcome better access to the RailRunner station at Zia, either with parking options or convenient public transit to get there, although it's not that much farther for me to drive to South Capitol and park there. But cramming this idea down the throats of those most impacted by it (the people who live near Zia/St. Francis) is a very poor behavior on the City's part and does not adequately respect those people's concerns. It's almost like the City forgets that they, too, are part of the City.

jarratt applewhite

We are so fortunate that people want to move here and enjoy what Santa Fe has to offer. Many other cities (including a lot in NM) are losing population. Currently, Santa Fe imports a large percentage of its labor force from Rio Rancho, Pecos and other nearby locations. Those people are not only using a lot of time (& gas) to get here, they are paying local taxes where they reside and enrolling their kids where they live. We lose a lot more than tax base and enrollment when that happens -- we lose the cultural diversity that those commuters would enrich us with if they were part of our community.

One way to accommodate growth is through sprawl. The other option is higher density. City planners are foresighted to encourage the latter. This site is at the intersection of two arterial corridors (one of which is a an interstate route). It's next to a rail station. There is a pedestrian underpass a block away.

If not here, where?

Joan Conrow

The core issue here is one of fairness and due process. The developer got far more favorable treatment than the citizens. The developer was given the significant gift of being allowed to up zone land from just 23 houses, to which they were entitled, to a whopping 384 units, 84,000 sq feet of office and 36,000 sq feet of retail -- in 4-story buildings that violate the view corridor height limit -- in exchange for providing a measly 39 apartments at reduced rents for just 10 years. The developer's rep, Jennifer Jenkins, was allowed to present stacks of documents, meet with city staff, present hours of unquestioned testimony on camera, show pretty visuals of what the project is supposed to look like and meet for hours with the council in a session that was closed to the public. Citizens, meanwhile, were denied an opportunity to cross examine witnesses, present visual materials, speak for longer than 2 minutes, present a coordinated presentation or even contact our Councilmembers directly. It's quite obvious that all the cards are stacked in the favor of the developer. This is why people get cynical about government. And this is why we are fighting the city's flawed and unConstitutional process.

Stefanie Beninato

[thumbup][thumbup][thumbup], Joan

Barry Rabkin

Probably this should have a neighborhood comment period of at least 2 years and potentially 5 years. After that period, I'm sure the neighborhood communities will find other ways to slow down the approval process.

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