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An empty lot is next to Zia Station near West Zia Road and South St. Francis Drive. A 400-unit mixed-use complex next to the Rail Runner station received City Council approval earlier this month, accompanied by a slate of zoning changes.

Nearly a decade ago, Santa Fe was a nonstarter for Josh Rogers, a high-ranking official with Titan Development.

Though Santa Fe had all the trappings of a magnetic housing market, Rogers said the Albuquerque-based firm avoided the state capital and its Byzantine housing codes in lieu of more attractive opportunities.

In an attempt to help balance its affordable housing stock, Santa Fe imposed an inclusionary housing ordinance in 2004 — requiring developers to set aside 15 percent of a development’s total units as affordable.

But Rogers, Titan’s vice president of development, said the move had the opposite effect — making it impossible for real estate firms to turn a profit and transforming Santa Fe into one of the least attractive spaces for new apartment construction in Northern New Mexico. A dozen years after the passage of the ordinance, just one large, market-rate complex — the 176-unit San Isidro Apartments — was constructed. That was in 2012-13.

“It’s not a coincidence that they passed the affordable housing ordinance in 2004 and then nothing happened,” Rogers said. “They are directly related.”

Then Santa Fe officials got creative.

In 2016, the city passed a new housing ordinance that allowed developers to pay a fee-in-lieu to the city’s Affordable Housing Trust Fund instead of setting aside affordable units.

The change was the piece that was missing from Santa Fe’s housing puzzle, Rogers said, solidifying the housing calculus and spurring what has become an apartment-building boom.

“It was finally possible, and that is the story,” Rogers said. “Now there is all this multifamily development going on in Santa Fe. Is that a problem? Is there too much? That remains to be seen, but that fee-in-lieu of made multifamily developments possible. Everyone wanted to do multifamily, [but] we just couldn’t do it.”

Nearly three months after the ordinance was changed, Titan Development went into scouting mode, picking a plot near St. Francis Drive, its first venture under the city’s revised housing ordinance: the 188-unit Broadstone Rodeo (now known as Olympus Rodeo) which started leasing in 2019.

Other new developments have continued to sprout, with almost 1,000 units permitted last year, according to the city’s Land Use Department. More are expected to move through the system in the near future.

The explosion in such projects has had a ripple effect on the conversations about development — again posing the thorny question about how Santa Fe can hold on to a small-city feel while allowing developers to help tackle the suffocating affordable housing issue.

Perhaps as a result of those discussions, Mayor Alan Webber has proposed a $200,000 study to explore how to manage and approach growth over the next few decades. If the City Council agrees to fund the study, it’s likely discussions over what Santa Fe looks and feels like will again take center stage.

Some level of trade-off

For his part, Webber said Santa Fe is at a crossroads, the kind familiar to larger metropolitan areas.

“We’ve always thought of ourselves as a small town with a small-town feel and charm. That’s why people like to live here and like to come here as tourists,” Webber said. “But when you look at the actual evolution of Santa Fe, we are starting to become a bigger place with the real issue that larger communities face.”

Webber hopes to get the planning study rolling later this year, with an outside firm spearheading the effort and participation from the community encouraged.

The city’s lack of affordable units is no secret. With a vacancy rate near zero (meaning when a unit is vacated, it’s essentially snatched up almost instantly), it’s common to hear stories of people struggling to find housing within their price range.

Just over 50 percent of Santa Fe’s workforce commutes into the city, according to a report from the state Department of Workforce Solutions. About 15 percent of commuters come from Albuquerque, the report found.

Developers have stepped in. More than 2,540 housing units have been permitted since 2018, but more will likely be needed to house Santa Fe’s workforce.

“There is obviously a deep gap of available housing in Santa Fe,” Webber said. “We are trying to fill that need without sacrificing the quality of life of the city.”

It’s a topic city Land Use Director Eli Isaacson has been pondering for the past six months, but one that he believes was magnified as city officials debated the merits of the Zia Station project.

The 400-unit mixed-use complex next to a Rail Runner station received City Council approval earlier this month, accompanied by a slate of zoning changes. The most contentious change was an exclusion from the South Central Highway Corridor overlay district. The 50-year-old overlay set two-story building height requirements, among other restrictions, to help preserve view lines as motorists enter the city.

Planning commissioners and members of the City Council wondered whether the exception to the South Central Highway Corridor might be inviting piecemeal zoning changes for future developers, instead of taking a more robust look at citywide growth and zoning as a whole.

The discussions only highlighted the need for a more holistic look at growth around the city, Webber said. Isaacson said the discussions happening in planning commission meetings boil down to whether officials are willing to make a trade-off.

“You heard that during the planning commission and the council [meetings on Zia Station],” Isaacson said. “Are we willing to give this to get this? These are really big questions, which is why I am supporting a growth management plan. These are questions that really impact all of Santa Fe.”

The soul of the city

While Webber sees the prospective study as a “step in the right direction,” it does fall short of a full general plan update, something officials have said sorely has been needed for the past decade and that is a key component to long-term planning.

Last updated in 1999, Santa Fe’s general plan sets the framework for how the city approaches development and growth management through two maps — its zoning map and a future land use map.

Webber said money was going to be allocated last year to a more robust overhaul of the general plan, but the financial impact of the coronavirus pandemic knocked the money out of the budget. Instead, the city is looking to clean up its existing land use codes through a $150,000 study in the 2022 budget.

The land use study is separate from the growth management study, but would likely include similar discussions over the proper place for larger developments.

“We are governed by codes that have long needed to be updated and internally reconciled,” Webber said. “We have patched the tire to where the tire no longer rolls smoothly. If you piecemeal changes, after a while the parts don’t add up.”

Affordable housing advocate Daniel Werwath said the city’s layers of code often contradict one another, putting developers in a difficult place when they are looking for land on which to build. A growth management study, he added, could help iron out some of those conflicts.

Werwath also said the city’s future land use map is about 20 years old and does not support the type of growth needed to solve some of Santa Fe’s more pressing housing affordability issues.

“We have zero next-level planning,” Werwath said. “That next level out, we are not good at. We have good programs and regulations, but we don’t have land zoned densely enough to achieve our goals.”

The city did have a committee for exploring long-range planning, but it last met in 2017 and dealt with individual area plans rather than citywide growth.

Werwath said the larger conversation needs to be about “exclusionary zoning” — moves that prohibit certain types of development in particular communities. According to data provided by Werwath, just under 5 percent of land in Santa Fe is considered suitable for affordable apartments.

More affluent parts of the city, due to Santa Fe’s zoning map, are effectively shielded from larger affordable housing projects.

“These are the types of issues we need to acknowledge,” Werwath said. “To solve them, we have to grow. The question we have right now is whether or not we grow, and in reality the question is how do we grow? We don’t really have a choice.”

Growth management in a city like Santa Fe is a balancing act, Webber said.

“People are attracted to Santa Fe because we have a certain sense of a way of life,” he said. “We don’t want to lose the elements that make us, us.”

Isaacson said some of those zoning and code changes might be informed through the growth management study, as well as changes to overlay districts and height caps for buildings.

He also said if the city is going to explore updating its general plan, it would attempt to do it in sections, as opposed to a lengthy, comprehensive update. That would allow planners to adjust to the changing city climate as needed, as opposed to making decisions that might be outdated by the time the plan is updated.

Werwath agreed, noting a full general plan update — one that might take three to four years to complete — might not be the best way.

Webber said once a management plan is completed, the city will begin work to figure out how to implement some of those recommendations. “This growth management study is getting us in the right direction,” he said. “It’s not the end.”

(37) comments

William Mee

I have been calling for Long Range Planning for years and wrote to the Mayor about it attaching my article then: https://www.santafenewmexican.com/opinion/my_view/we-need-better-long-range-planning/article_5bfaddd6-36ea-5b6b-bd12-cac6937df022.html. Why suddenly is he concerned now that election season is here?

Daniel Werwath

Lots of great comments here, and also lots of critical topics that long term growth planning can address at the community-wide level that I think we need to talk about. Which is far preferable than doing it ad hoc (with various sets of facts) in land use approval hearings. Also lots of info that people don’t seem to know, like the recent changes to short term rental rules and the 1000 permit cap. We have limited resources, especially water, and climate change is the biggest challenge we face, which is why I’m so passionate about growing smartly. And to the person who mischaracterized my past statement: I don’t believe I’ve ever said there’s “plenty of water” just that the City Water director has said point blank that water is not the limiting factor for growth at this time, even under worst case climate change models.

Grace Trujillo

Sounds good, if Mayor Webber follows codes. There are restrictions on builders that the locals are fond of. Follow codes or leave it to someone else.

Khal Spencer

The water issue is regional. Whether one lives in Rio Rancho, Albuquerque, Santa Fe, or Espanola, we all have our straw in the same system. The only way to deal with what will likely be a long term drying is to manage water in a way that imposes more and more severe restrictions and which ranks uses; there will be winners and losers in the long run. Or, if the megadrought/climate change gets bad enough, I suppose like the Chaco Canyon residents, folks will pick up and leave.

I think the city needs to be having this conversation. Who gets to live here? Are we to have an exclusive little community for the well to do while income inequality and way we run the housing market forces others out? Do we stipulate a maximum on short term rentals, if that is possible, such as by taxing them to death? Zone more than 5% of the city for multifamily? And if we do increase density, how will the transportation system work? Do we build out, encouraging sprawl which of course means more transportation emissions.

I get it that we want to preserve that "Santa Fe way of life", or whatever it is called, but to some degree, that quote translates into "I've got mine". Gleefully hanging on to a model that increasingly opens the distance between the haves and the have-nots can only lead to a bad outcome. Whether it be poor whites voting for a populist or increased crime as folks can't cope with costs, there will be no free lunch. Gated communities having armed guards notwithstanding, the increased gap of income inequality is at the core of this issue to some degree.

Richard Reinders

Khal, I wish you wouldn’t generalize with the haves, some off us worked like in my wife and my case 363 days a year with no vacation for 12 years 12 plus hrs a day and earned our “have” be careful many “haves” did the same and it’s not fair to not allow us enjoy the fruits of our labor. I am usually in step with your comments but we all did not make our money in Silicon Valley, and have shared our success with others.

rodney carswell

?

Khal Spencer

The problem is structural.

https://www.wsj.com/articles/if-you-sell-a-house-these-days-the-buyer-might-be-a-pension-fund-11617544801

Khal Spencer

Oh, and Richard, I'm not trying to paint with too broad a brush so don't take it personally and I'm sorry if you did. I could assert the same work ethic you do for me and my significant other, but in addition to those of us who work like dogs to have a good life, there are the investment firms gobbling up houses on speculation and people buying rental properties, short term rentals, vacation homes, and generally tightening the market. Something's gotta give.

Sure, if it were bad enough, I'd move to Northern Michigan (got a good friend up there who likes the place) or maybe somewhere closer but less hideously expensive than Santa Fe or Los Alamos. Fanta Se is worth just so much of my resources.

Alder del Tangio

Let's face it; Santa Fe is on the road to becoming the next big city in the Southwest, replete with smog, congestion and traffic. Why - because in the last several years, developers with money to spread around always get they're way. It's not about affordable housing or being creative to cure a housing deficit - no, it's about profits. And the Planning Commission and the City Council are all to eager to go along. The approval of the massive Zia Station project certainly demonstrates this... Tossing out the zoning restrictions that have been in place for decades because the developer thinks they are outdated and stymies their profit?? Council members Lindell and Rivera didn't even bother to vote on it. This article quotes the "pay in lieu of" as the missing piece. No - this is the short sighted cure of our city leaders, i.e., build massive amounts of units to get a paltry share of affordable ones and as many have stated here - hope the water supply holds. Real sustainable development and true approaches to affordable housing need to be the focus of the Mayor's commission... because they are sorely absent now.

Stefanie Beninato

IMHO it is too bad the council and mayor did not want to study and adopt new zoning requirements before they decided to waive several for the Zia Station megadevelopment. Of course they could not look at the financials to prove the developer had a razor thin margin of profit or that all those units would be needed to make it profitable--that would break the rules!!! LOL when it comes to intellectual consistency on city council.

Richard Reinders

Webber says “People are attracted to Santa Fe because we have a certain sense of a way of life,” he said. “We don’t want to lose the elements that make us, us.” but he fails to see he came through Santa Fe like Sherman through the South destroying the culture, monuments and the history, give me a break, its an election year. Also Webber will find another expert to recalculate water use to say even number houses take showers on Tues and Sat and uneven numbers on Mon and Thurs. We have a model to look at it is called California during their worse drought years they pumped so much ground water that it settled the earth is collapsing the aquifers and limits the storage of resupply in the future. , they said had plenty of water as well.

https://www.sacbee.com/news/california/water-and-drought/article151099812.html

Mark Ortiz

Leaders can not say they are against gentrification or that Santa Fe is not being gentrified if the following is true and it is not being addressed, "More affluent parts of the city, due to Santa Fe’s zoning map, are effectively shielded from larger affordable housing projects." it should also say "or any affordable housing projects."

Devin Bent

I am not the only one who notices that the New Mexican fails to link its articles on housing with those on water. To quote an earlier comment on this article:

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Allen Olson Apr 25, 2021 6:31am

"In recent months The Santa Fe New Mexican has published numerous articles about climate change, the mega drought in the Southwest, and water shortages in the Rio Grande. It has also published articles about new housing development in Santa Fe and plans for more in the future. Interestingly, the New Mexican articles never link the two topics."

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The word "water" appears more than 30 times in the comments on the article. It appears ZERO times in the article. This disconnect between the newspaper's coverage and the concerns of its readers is troubling.

Cleve Spence

Water is going to big huge in the next decade out west!

Andrew Lucero

Water will ultimately be the deciding factor in how large Santa Fe gets. Our water supply is already overtaxed and can barely sustain our current population as it is. I certainly don’t trust Webber or any commission he fills with his cronies or other self-proclaimed “experts” to determine our future growth. They are only concerned with cashing in from the development. Oh sure, he’ll spin it by saying it’s in the name of progress and economic development, all in the guise of “AFFORDABLE HOUSING”… Heck, if affordable housing is their ultimate goal, then by all means let them build with reckless abandonment… It will be astonishing how “affordable” housing becomes when there is no water flowing into the pipes of all those new developments.

Bill Roth

Lots of good comments here. I just wanted to make folks aware that are concerned about water conservation and water sources here in Santa Fe, that we have led the country in water conservation measures here in Santa Fe, Not to say more doesn't need to happen here, but its nice to at least acknowledge that folks here for years have been working on this issue. Right here in SF, we developed a program called "WERS" which is a scoring tool measuring water use in new and existing homes. A version of this program was adapted in the Nation Green Building Code. The Santa Fe water conservation office, led by Christine Chavez, is always looking for, and helping the city adapt, water conservation measures. There is a push on to make sure that new multifamily construction hew to the same water conservation measures new single family homes already adhere to. So, when you hear about this proposal coming forward (which hopefully will be soon), MAKE SURE to pressure our elected leaders to adapt it, and make sure that this much needed new multifamily housing is as water wise as any new single family home being built today in Santa Fe. One final point- the housing that we need so badly isn't just for new comers- its for the folks already living here who commute to Rio Rancho to live, where not only are the houses less water efficient, but the carbon load on all those cars commuting back and forth is something to think about in regards to climate change

Paul Davis

Thanks for an excellent post.

Khal Spencer

[thumbup]

David Cartwright

It's a real mistake to waive the height limit. The kinds of people that run for office in this town have abounding ignorance of all things important. Yet, they never cease to claim expertise. Maybe the mayor is right and we need a commission to plan. Unfortunately, that commission will be stacked with command and control types.

Sasha Pyle

Many constructive thoughts were voiced both in the article and in these comments, but- again- ‘not one word’ about short-term rentals. When properties come on the market and are immediately gobbled up as cash-cow Airbnb’s, we end up with out-of-staters renting to out-of-staters, a theme park atmosphere, and absolutely no place to rent for people who have grown up here, who work here. We need those short-term rental caps back in force if we don’t want to just be a vacation party town of Californians renting to Texans. From Barcelona to Cape Cod to Hawaii, this is a problem. Other places are fighting it and we must as well.

christopher quintana

We can’t stop people from wanting to move to Santa Fe and the neighboring areas. We can limit the population. We, together must plan for the future. Our Water supply probably is the major crisis we have over and above affordable housing, affordability, sprawl, healthcare and income inequality. What can we do? Reroute water from Santa Fe treatment plant back up to top of Santa Fe river? Raise residential water rates for homes using more than 5000 gallons per month? Limit water to each residence so the wealthy don’t pay their way for lush yards? Use more reclaimed water for city properties? What do you say?

Yvonne Ricard

Ive been a resident of New Mexico for 30 years, and have asked this question to "no one listening", where is the water coming from? Why spend $200.000 on a study? Isn't climate change and drought enough to make one (powers that be) simply put a moratoruim on further development for a little while. If we need housing so badly....there are a lot of empty buidings in Santa Fe that could house hundreds. I know I'm talking to the "walls " out there that who have been gambling on the water situation for years. Game Over!

Barry Rabkin

No. Not game over at all. Santa Fe will continue to experience growth of its population. There will be no moratorium, no stopping until some czar or czarina (I use these terms with all the horror and disrespect I hold for the collapsed Soviet Union) states that 'growth can continue.' People will continue to come to Santa Fe to live. There will be no road-blocks stopping them.

Christian Vanschayk

Economic development needs to be an integral part of city planning. It is always a question of balance. Without well paying jobs, we cannot sustain quality growth and preserve what makes Santa Fe desirable.

christopher quintana

CORRECTION: WE CAN’T LIMIT POPULATION

William Gruber

I’ll again ask, where do we expect the water to come from for all this new development. Thousands of new people will want water to do laundry, take showers, was dishes and water their landscape. Climate change IS the issue we face.

Barry Rabkin

Ask the various councils and committees responsible for Santa Fe's planning. But using the terms 'climate change' is not going to stop the growth of Santa Fe's population. Neither will the terms 'what about the water?' stop people from coming here. Santa Fe is not going to devolve to the small artists' enclave it was many, many, many decades ago.

Paul Davis

Perhaps this is a cynical view, but ... currently NM produces somewhere in the range of 6-8% of all the food eaten in the state. Agriculture is the biggest user of water; domestic/residential use is very small by comparison. If residential population continues to expand and water does become in actual short supply, I think it's likely that you will see challenges to the agricultural sector's use of water coming from residents.

Yes, it could break centuries of tradition in the state, but you're going to talking about a very small minority of the state's population (those directly or indirectly connected to agriculture) being at odds with the majority of the state's population. For better or for worse, we know how those sorts of struggles normally end.

To be clear, I'm not suggesting that this outcome would be a good thing. Indeed, it would be a tragedy, in many different ways. I'm just speculating on what happens after 10 years of challenging water supplies and a growing population. I hope this isn't what the future looks like.

Earl James

Not one word about water in this article. Hello!?

Stefanie Beninato

Thanks Allen and Rick for your comments. That is why we need a third person to run as mayor---someone who cares about water supply and neighborhoods. And is Daniel Werwath the only affordable housing expert in the city? He certainly is given a lot of space in this article to talk about exclusionary zoning. I am sure he would like a 24/7 operation--say a factory to move in next to his home. It would have such a beneficial effect on his enjoyment of his property and his health.

Paul Davis

This is a silly way to think about exclusionary zoning, and seems to be another example of the American perception of "slippery slopes".

Exclusionary zoning doesn't involve banning industrial production facilities from residential neighborhoods. It involves banning certain classes of housing from those neighborhoods, specifically, classes of housing that are more affordable and thus likely to attract lower income residents. It specifically means banning apartments in neighborhoods zoned for single family housing (or even just multi-family units from areas zoned for duplexes).

If you really want to argue that "if they allow an apartment complex, next thing will be a chemical plant", go right ahead. But I don't think that this is realistic, or helpful.

This is not a problem unique to Santa Fe, not by any means. But it's a problem anywhere that it happens, and it is always defended by appeals to "property rights", "resale value", and "quality of life". The more honest defense is "I don't want those people living near me".

Stefanie Beninato

You know. Paul, we have many housing types even in the "exclusive" Eastside of Santa fe including a city run affordable housing complex on Cerro Gordo; duplexes, multiplexes and even large scale high end retirement homes. So there does not seem to be anything exclusionary about the zoning. Now the covenants in certain neighborhoods are a problem.> For example between OFST and Cordova E of Old Pecos Trail, the covenants state that only 1 acre lots will be allowed and only with a one family residence. I was told when I thought about buying such a residence that I would never be able to split the lot to a 1/2 acre and put a house and guest house on it, that the neighbors would oppose it and they had the money to do it....The city does not enforce or challenge covenants...

MJ Paul

Affordable housing is not the most pressing issue of our time, climate change is. Let’s hope that our Mayor has learned his lesson from his last task force, The Mayor’s Task Force on Affordable Housing and Livable Communities. The task force was lead by a developer and primarily represented the development and homeless community with virtually no, or very limited representation, on climate change, water sustainability, unaddressed problems with livable neighborhoods and parks, needed infrastructure to support growth…. and now our city is experiencing the fallout. Some of the members of the Mayor’s task force, including Daniel Werwath, actually stated publicly that Santa Fe has plenty of water. Kim Shanahan, another member of the task force, recently wrote a piece in the New Mexican, “Santa Fe has more water than you think, and here’s why” an alarming article focusing on a policy to retro fit toilets undertaken nearly 20 years ago apparently as our path forward to water sustainability for future growth.

When it comes time for our city elections we need to consider why we would vote for leadership displaying such ignorance/arrogance of climate change and water sustainability for future growth while failing to provide a livable community today.

Prince Michael Jauregui

Well put, MJ. The serious affordable crisis in Santa Fe and across the nation has not been properly addressed for decades. I recently read that a first-year teacher in Santa Fe can barely afford housing, again, this serious issue cannot be understated.

Rick Martinez

I find it very disturbing that existing neighborhoods are never considered in this article. Or are neighborhoods outdated as well?

Allen Olson

In recent months The Santa Fe New Mexican has published numerous articles about climate change, the mega drought in the Southwest, and water shortages in the Rio Grande. It has also published articles about new housing development in Santa Fe and plans for more in the future. Interestingly, the New Mexican articles never link the two topics. Water is essential for long term development, but there is rarely any discussion of where it will come from in this increasingly dry era. We should not assume we will always have enough. Our elected officials need to take heed and discuss all aspects of development planning including both short and long term water supplies. Those who don’t need to be removed from office at election time. The planet is facing a climate disaster. Santa Fe will not be immune from its effects. It is time to pull our heads out of the sand.

Mark Ortiz

I've supported Vigil Coppler on some issues that she came out against Webber on BUT I am very concerned that she's a realtor, first and foremost. Watch for platitudes from her on green this or green that.

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