Neighborhood activists and other Santa Fe residents are raising concerns about Mayor Javier Gonzales’ nominees for the Planning Commission, which reviews land-use proposals within the city.
At least one city councilor said he plans to vote against confirming Vince Kadlubek and Daniel Werwath on Wednesday, and other councilors say they either have questions about potential conflicts of interest or haven’t decided how they’re going to vote.
City Councilor Joseph Maestas said he is concerned about the “timing and optics” of the proposed appointments. He referred to the nominees’ “association with some very recent controversial developments” that have gone before the commission, specifically a proposal to build a 452-unit apartment complex off Agua Fría Street next to Frenchy’s Field Park.
The commission rejected that proposal on a 4-2 vote in February amid neighborhood complaints about the proposed density and traffic impacts. Developers said the El Rio development was designed to appeal to young professionals with affordable rents and amenities such as electric car-charging stations, bike storage and access to the Santa Fe River Trail.
Kadlubek, a founding member of the Meow Wolf artist collective who served as a volunteer on the mayor’s campaign, spoke in favor of the project at the commission hearing, and Werwath wrote a Facebook post describing residents who testified in opposition as an “angry mob.”
“I’m getting a lot of emails from concerned citizens just about the way this looks,” Maestas said, “and I tend to agree with them.”
City Councilor Bill Dimas said he plans to vote against confirming the pair. Like Maestas, Dimas said the council had requested that the city advertise openings on commissions, boards and committees, which didn’t happen in this case.
“I’m sure that we have a lot of people in this community who are a lot more qualified and who don’t have any kind of special interest in being on this particular commission,” Dimas said. “And this is one of the most important commissions that we have in the city, so I think that we need to advertise it and select the best qualified for that position for transparency reasons.”
The mayor and councilors have been getting emails from residents who question whether Kadlubek and Werwath, chief operating officer of New Mexico Inter-Faith, an organization that aims to improve housing options, should be appointed.
Kadlubek, who is an ardent backer of the mayor, has no land-use experience. Werwath is working with the city on a housing project that could end up before the commission. Werwath said he would recuse himself from voting on that project and others he has worked on.
Werwath’s comments on Facebook concerning the El Rio project have generated the most criticism. After the commission turned down the development, Werwath wrote: “Makes all the community work I do feel sort of hopeless when a community board would rather value an angry mob than the best interest of the entire community and the professional planners at the city who make recommendation to the planning commission. Its [sic] also a travesty that the only way to provide meaningful input is to attend meeting and sit in a room full of vitriolic people.”
Marilyn Bane, who serves on several community boards and advocates for neighborhood protection and historic preservation efforts, sent the mayor and council members an email stating that she hoped Werwath’s comments disturbed them as much as they did her.
“There was no angry mob. The neighbors who testified were not vitriolic,” she wrote. “They were concerned about the impact on their lives and the effect on their neighborhood. Seems to me that’s fair, and worthy of being heard by thoughtful City Commissioners.”
Rick Martinez, president of the Neighborhood Network, an umbrella organization for neighborhood groups, asked the mayor and councilors to deny Werwath’s appointment. “A person who already believes that the public is an angry mob has no place sitting on the Planning Commission,” Martinez said.
City Councilor Peter Ives said Tuesday he hadn’t read his emails yet but that he planned to vote to confirm Werwath and Kadlubek. “Daniel has a good depth of experience with such issues given his current position,” Ives said. “Vince is new to the process, but I think there’s a lot to be said. He’s been very engaged in Santa Fe.”
Gonzales had also nominated Aaron Borrego, a real estate broker who is related to the mayor by marriage, for a seat on the Planning Commission. But Borrego withdrew his name from consideration Monday.
The mayor is seeking replacements for former Chairman Tom Spray, who resigned last year, and Lisa Bemis and Dan Pava, whose terms expired in June 2014.
The mayor is poised to make additional appointments to the nine-member commission in June when the terms of five other commissioners — Michael A. Harris, Lawrence Ortiz, John Padilla, Angela Schackel Bordegaray and Renee Villarreal — expire, according to the City Clerk’s Office.
“At least with this round of appointments,” Gonzales said Monday about Kadlubek and Werwath, “I believe that both individuals come with unique experience that will add to the diversity of the Planning Commission and allow for discussion on places for younger people to live in the future here in Santa Fe. In June, there will be a new set of appointments … and it’ll give us an opportunity to reach out to neighborhoods and to other interest groups in Santa Fe to allow them to come in and participate in the Planning Commission process as well.”
Contact Daniel J. Chacón at 986-3089 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter.