Dozens of residents opposed to a planned assisted living home for seniors on Old Pecos Trail railed against the project Wednesday, telling city officials it isn’t suitable for the site and calling it a “monster of a building,” “excessively large” and “blatantly inappropriate.”

But just before midnight, following an hours-long public hearing at the Santa Fe High School gymnasium, city councilors rejected an appeal of the Santa Fe Planning Commission’s approval of the home on a 5-4 vote, clearing the way for the MorningStar Senior Living project to move forward.

The 84-unit MorningStar project is the latest example of a private development in Santa Fe that has pitted homeowners against developers. City Councilor Carmichael Dominguez made a motion to dismiss the appeal, saying, “It bothers me when people try to use fear in these types of deliberations.” The motion was seconded by Councilor Ron Trujillo.

Mayor Javier Gonzales broke the tie, siding with Dominguez, Trujillo and Councilors Bill Dimas and Chris Rivera in voting to dismiss the appeal filed by the Southeast Neighborhood Association. Councilors Patti Bushee, Signe Lindell, Peter Ives and Joe Maestas cast the no votes.

The Southeast Neighborhood Association had said the project’s plan fails to meet zoning requirements and would be “improperly located” within the Old Pecos Trail Scenic Corridor. The association contended the building would be out of character with the nearby neighborhood. The home would sit on 3.85 acres near the Elks Lodge on Old Pecos Trail at Calle de Sebastian, part of a major traffic corridor that is next to the entrance of a residential area.

“This large commercial facility, with its continuous lights, noise, smells and increased traffic, will likely lower property values and adversely affect the quality of life in the surrounding residential neighborhoods,” Jan Brooks, vice president of the association’s board, wrote in a letter to homeowners.

Joanne Birdwhistell told the mayor and city councilors Wednesday that she lives “not much more than 100 feet from the underbelly of this enormous commercial facility.”

“I’m a longtime teacher of Chinese history,” Birdwhistell said. “When I heard about the size and length of this facility, I could not help but think of the Great Wall of China.”

About 150 people turned out for the hearing at Santa Fe High, and nearly 90 testified. While most spoke in opposition, the proposal had some supporters, including Ron Olexsak, an Elks Club member who encouraged the mayor and council to consider the “multiplier effect” from “highly paid” work for landscapers, plumbers and electricians, among others.

“The economic impact of this is going to be very important,” Olexsak said.

Other supporters included Santa Fe County Commission Chairman Robert Anaya, Patricio M. Serna, a former justice of the New Mexico Supreme Court, and former mayor Larry Delgado.

“It’s totally in compliance,” Delgado said.

Not everybody was convinced.

The Rev. Duncan Jay Lanum, a rector at St. Thomas the Apostle Episcopal Church, accused the city of violating one of the Ten Commandments: “Thou shalt not steal.”

“Because you would be stealing from the neighborhood the peace and quiet that they have been given when they built their homes,” Lanum said. “You would be stealing from the people from Santa Fe and from people such as myself who have lived close to it for all of these years. And people coming into Santa Fe, you would be stealing from them the beauty of the only remaining heritage gateway into this city.”

The site of the proposed 73,550-square-foot assisted living center is zoned for one residence per acre, but the zoning allows “continuing care” facilities under a special-use permit. Whether the proposed building meets the definition of a “continuing care” facility under the city code was a major point of dispute.

Frank Herdman, a local attorney who represented the appellants, said the facility proposed by Colorado-based MorningStar isn’t a continuing care community “by any stretch of the imagination.”

The City Attorney’s Office, which recommended that the council uphold the Planning Commission’s decision, disagreed.

Zachary Shandler, an assistant city attorney, said the neighborhood association interpreted the definition to mean that some seniors must live in rooms in one part of the facility while others live with full nursing care in a separate part of the facility.

The city code “does not necessarily create a requirement for a bifurcated facility where some seniors must live in one part of the facility while other seniors with full nursing care must live in another,” Shandler said.

Another opponent, John Bemis, former Cabinet secretary for the New Mexico Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department, said he was amazed that the city’s Land Use Department had allowed the project to get as far as it did.

Bemis, who lives in the area, told the council he didn’t want to quote O.J. Simpson lawyer Johnnie Cochran.

But “if the definition don’t fit, you can’t permit,” Bemis said, referring to the famous “If it doesn’t fit, you must acquit” phrase from the courtroom drama.

Contact Daniel J. Chacón at 986-3089 or dchacon@sfnewmexican.com. Follow him on Twitter @danieljchacon.

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(75) comments

Meredith Madri

When Javier was running for Mayor, his critics advised that he would be the HomeBoy pandering to the Corporate Interests. Turns out they were correct.
Disappointing, but not surprising.

Tomas Moore

Harold Martin-Smythe
Full time troll and expert on everything. How many posts can you make on one subject without adding anything to the discussion? Enlighten us with more of your profound comments and then go get a life away from your keyboard!
I take great pleasure in telling you I won't be back to these comments to hear whatever dribble you write! Troll on Harry!

Karen Peterson

Thank you for putting it so succinctly!

Jerry Wise

Javier sold out, he may get a nice corporate donation at his next run but he lost my vote. A 73,000 square foot business should never have been approved in an R1 zone. Approved on a bogus continuing care facility exemption for a business that doesn't accept Medicaid or Medicare.

Richard Rockman

Last night I was 1 of the DeVargas Heights South concerned neighbors who attended this controversial hearing aka the "MorningStar project". I was hopeful that the City Council & Mayor would not allow this project to move forward. After hearing 5 of our Council members render their opinions on this - the vote was 4 against & 1 in favor of the project. The next 3 councilmen voted against the project. Close to midnight, the vote was even 4 to 4, so the Mayor was inevitably the tie breaker. He approved the project much to my dismay. Change too is inevitable but I strongly feel that this approved project will set a precedent that permits a commercial building to abut a residential neighborhood in Santa Fe. In my estimation this is sad day for this city. I love living in this beautiful SE neighborhood.

Harold Martin-Smythe

Richard--you can still live in your lovely SE neighborhood, just share it with this new expansive retirement facility and all its employees. Sure there may be a liitle more noise with all those CNA's running around, but it will be no different than all those late-night drunks @ Elk's Lodge. [cool]

Richard Rockman

CORRECTION: "After hearing 5 of our Council members render their opinions on this - the vote was 4 against & 1 in favor of the project. The next 3 councilmen voted IN FAVOR of the project. Close to midnight, the vote was even 4 to 4"...

Staci Benni

Once again the Mayor and half the council sold out. Dominguez basically whined that those showing up last night did not oppose a development in his district so why should he care about Dist 2. Time to get a new councilor...Dimas spent most of the meeting outside the gym floor.
It clearly did not meet the definition for this type of facility and 73,000 sq ft is not compatible with the other bldgs. in the area.
BTW many of those opposed live in townhouses near by--and many have lived in the area for over 40 yrs
The Elks lined up some politicos to come in and tell us what a great organization the Elks are. Jobs?--no full time nursing facility so you can be sure that only the administrators will be paid much above the so-called Living Wage.
And for all you 20 and 30 yo.who thought the Mayor and Council want affordable housing for your close to town, remember the FIVE on council who did not support such a rezoning plan by local developers but who will bend over backwards for truly big bucks from out of state.
I do not know many who could afford the price of this facility except for doubledippers,, the city manager, the city clerk and the city attorney.

Harold Martin-Smythe

sour grapes

Rod Lievano

I''l wager that Councilor Dominguez would understand the homeowners' fear it the facility were to be planned for his neighborhood.

Mayor Gonzales:
-- Doesn't get Santa Fe
-- Gets Santa Fe but does not care

Kiki Ortega

Is anyone REALLY surprised this was approved? The City Council and Mayor are not ever going to side with what's really good for Santa Fe. Anymore with our City government the term "historic" these days means "let's befriend anyone who comes here with a lot of money and give them whatever they want".
For a good example of this all you have to do is take a drive on the "historic" east side of town and observe all the overdone/overbuilt homes that obviously do not belong to the local people!

Carolyn DM

[thumbup]

Harold Martin-Smythe

Senior facilities not good for the community? ...whatever.[scared]

Frederick Jones

Alexandra sorry for generalizing, but the east side and downtown area is no longer what it was and NEVER will be, when I was growing up, it has changed just like the crappy fiestas and zozobra! With the amount of comments today on this issue it really shows NIMBY at its best. I just think all districts in Fanta Se should treated the same. Crappy politics and dirty money have created this and everyone is up in arms.

Mary Shepherd

This isn't NIMBY this is NIMFY. It is in Santa Fe's FRONT YARD.

Carolyn DM

Why don't they buy the Scottish Rite Cathedral and put the facility there. It's already built.

Harold Martin-Smythe

of course[beam]

Mary Bonney

The real crime is that this Morningstar facility will not accept Medicare or Medicaid.
People are already living far too long, well past 'natural death' - and a facility like this one only manages to fleece the elderly and their families, causing additional stress and pain to the already emotionally painful dying process.

Harold Martin-Smythe

[censored]

nuts

Harold Martin-Smythe

Mary-- I think you are proposing something like the final solution? Caring for the elderly fleeces family members? Gosh, I hope my kids NEVER feel that way.

Mary Bonney

What I am seeing among my peers with parents in places such as these, parents that have long surpassed any real quality of life, due to extreme medical measures keeping them alive unnaturally. These facilities drain the family's finances. The shame is on the facilities that charge huge fees for care that many can't truly afford but are left with limited options. Pardon my practicality...

Mary Shepherd

Harold - My mom died of advanced dementia at the age of 94 last year. The only place we and she could afford for a 1 week stay was Casa Real. It accepts Medicare and Medicaid payment. But it is understaffed. I have never seen her sob the way she did there. We took her out as soon as possible after 1 week. (The owners are being sued by the state Attorney General for the way they neglect patients due to understaffing). The Morningstar facility will not accept Medicare or Medicaid. If you can't pay $5,000-$7,000 per month, then you can't stay there. That is not helpful for our old people. My mom stayed at home and died at home, and frankly I think she would have been better off in a facility because she did not really know who we were at the end, and I work full-time so could not spend enough time with her, we had a patchwork quilt of caretakers and paying them used up her life savings. The care of our elderly is a very real and pressing problem that the city should be dealing with in a realistic way.

Harold Martin-Smythe

Again, getting old sucks, but I hope I can some day have choices, like this facility being built adjacent Elk's Lodge. I hope not to be forced to relocate to Rio Rancho, etc. Morningstar facility is not a hospital, but rather a place I can mingle with other seniors, perhaps have coffee together or play board games, etc. Knowing I live walking distance to excellent medical facilities is comforting and a bonus. I'm sorry old people and needed services offend so many, especially when located in a convenient santa fe location.

Mary Shepherd

Harold, You are lucky you have $6,000 per month to spend to live there.

Harold Martin-Smythe

I don't, but I am also not envious of those who do have 6k/month.

David Steele

Bravo! Now how about a Motel 6 at the I-25/Old Pecos Trail interchange? Las Vegas has a junkyard at the south entrance to their town, hasn't hurt them a bit.

Harold Martin-Smythe

[thumbup]

Mary Shepherd

The value of the properties adjacent to the proposed building site are lower than any of you might imagine. It's not a bunch of rich people living there by any means. A member of the Planning Commission - Angela Schackel - said she could not afford to live in that neighborhood, as one of her justifications for voting for the special use permit. I looked up the value of her home on Zillow.com and her home in South Santa Fe is worth more than the properties next to the building site. There is a perception that the rich people living there need to get screwed because people on the other side of town have been screwed. But you all need to do a better job figuring out who the rich people are. The owners of MorningStar are out-of-state wealthy business people and you sold them the town for a quick buck. How long was the Elks property on the market? Did they have to take this one offer that has caused so much divisiveness? They could not wait for a more acceptable project?

Harold Martin-Smythe

Who cares where angela schackel lives or what her property is valued at, really? It's not about being rich or poor. It;s about doing the right thing for our old folks, the same folks who did lots for us during their lives, hopefully. Give these people choices for living arrangements. Let them be near medical facilities and quality medical care. I don't think that's asking for much. [innocent]

Marilyn Bane

This deeply flawed Council decision should be appealed to District Court immediately. Hopefully this is being discussed. There is precedent for a positive outcome, when Judge Jim Hall ruled in a similar spot zoning case that the city can not break its own laws, regardless how well intended.

Harold Martin-Smythe

yes, of course

Frederick Jones

Sounds like many people commenting today are suffering from tenor syndrome! They should have moved ten or fifteen miles farther away, when they moved here. That way there's more landscape to admire!

Carmen M

Wish I had not stayed up so late, watching on TV. The vote has been predictable for weeks: Districts 1 and 2 opposed to the project, 3 and 4 and the Mayor in favor.

It might be a worthy enterprise, but very few seniors in Santa Fe could ever afford to live there.

Does seem to have bent zoning ordinances, which might prove to be a tricky precedent for future development in the area.

Ernie Durr

Has anyone thought about how the Elks may of felt when this neighborhood was developed and they were basically out of town? I would guess there was no dialogue by them against the development. This organization is very community based and could use support in this matter. We should be proud of their 100 + years that our community has had the honor of having them here.

Harold Martin-Smythe

the bldg is still ugly though.

Beverly Harris

We all value our homes, our neighborhoods, our views (no matter how little). We all grieve for our losses when development marches into our area. Only the wealthy, though, turn our in droves and become hysterical when it happens to them. Only the wealthy have the heft and financial power to get politicians to side with them. This was quite a spectacle. "Underbelly"? "Smells"? "Great Wall of China"? "Monster"? "Violating the Ten Commandments"? I might have had some sympathy at first, but the wild verbiage is truly off-putting. Admiring my city councilors today, Ron Trujillo and Bill Dimas.

--Cristi

Harold Martin-Smythe

[thumbup]

Frederick Jones

The mountains you live in!! Is it really that big a deal?? Maybe the facility can be built into the ground to accommodate the design review board, the neighbors who paid big bucks for the homes. There isn't any rag tag lots up that way anyway! be glad its not some BS 400 unit apartment complex for Santa Fe's young professional population. It shouldn't hamper that area much. Be glad that the city maintains that part of town so well for the residents, there's other parts of town that get no attention at all!! Lo siento pero no lo siento, otra vez!!!

Alexandra Pyle

Frederick, that is a perfectly normal neighborhood, not some gated community for ricos. And if we don't care what gets developed and by whom, we kill the goose that lays ALL the eggs. The proposed facility is much more for rich people than the houses around it. And the money goes out of state AGAIN. I agree with Frank Ettenberg that this decision badly damages the faith that city residents have in the mayor and the Council. As well as the neighborhood that will be forever marred by this hulking monstrosity Santa Fe's elders can't afford.

Frank Ettenberg

This is guaranteed to put an ugly dent in the city's faith in the mayor and in the city council. The project is a 'white elephant' and destroys trust in the mayor and in the city council. You weren't listening, you people we originally put our faith in. Change your vote if you know what's good for you.

Harold Martin-Smythe

really?

Carolyn Cerf

'Change your vote if you know what's good for you' is a not so veiled threat.

Alexandra Pyle

This is absolutely SHOCKING. The mayor and the councilors who voted yes fell for the jobs argument which is ALWAYS trotted out in support of everything toxic. A crime against our town and the mountains we live in.

Harold Martin-Smythe

Shocking that compassion for elderly/disabled exists in Santa Fe? I hope I stay young forever, and I never need such a facility [sad]

Carolyn DM

Another great example of our Mayor being the 'People's Mayor'. NOT. Stick to Zozobra and Fiesta decisions Mr. Mayor. The people are not impressed.

Harold Martin-Smythe

Not about politics, Carolyn. Santa Fe needs to serve elderly and the poor as well, and not worry itself with how home values being impacted on every decision it makes. [smile]

karl hardy

They elderly and poor an be taken care of without destroying property values and that is not all..........those who own property should be able to trust that their investment will not be hurt by the city not keeping their promises of zoning....

..... and i do not own property, just looking at fairness and now lack of trust in the system that sold houses as investments in the community.......

Carolyn Cerf

Property values are likely to be more affected by the homeowner that insisted her street was a death trap. Disclose that when you try and sell your home.

Carolyn DM

'Not about politics....' Bwahahahahah!!!! I don't know what planet you dropped in from but this is Northern NM. I'm pretty sure the poor you refer to won't benefit from this place except for a minimum wage job.

Andrew Lucero

Come on Carolyn, be fair... You think for one minute the people trust the Mayor to make Zozobra and Fiesta decisions? Those are semi important decisions and are WAY above his capabilities...Going on junkets and checking into 5 star hotels at the taxpayer's expense is about all he is good for...

Frederick Jones

Is museum hill an eyesore to the neighborhood in this area?

karl hardy

yes it was to the people who used to live in that neighborhood.........and those who used to walk in the arroyos in peace and tranquility....... who are no longer allowed.... what used to be a public walkpath had been closed............and neighbors are inconvenienced every time they have an opening or special event......not everyone likes being a tourist trap

Frederick Jones

Lo siento, pero no lo siento! With all the money in that area they didn't buy the property. Is the Elks club an eyesore to the homeowners?

karl hardy

No the elks club is not an eyesore, but a part of history of the town and is respected as that...........but two elks clubs would be overkill

Harold Martin-Smythe

[offtopic]

Harold Martin-Smythe

[thumbup]

Tomas Moore

Very disappointed in the Mayor and the City Councilors who voted to allow this! I feel sorry for its neighbors who will see the trees bulldozed, live with the dust and construction noise and traffic. I hope the supporters will be happy with the legacy they helped leave this beautiful neighborhood and creating an eyesore on the last scenic corridor into Santa Fe. I also hope anyone who get caught in the heavy traffic that will result remembers what the Mayor and those supporting Councilors did! We are losing what made our city unique.

Harold Martin-Smythe

@ Tomas Moore: Scenic corridor? Huh? Major hospital, offices, commercial businesses right around the corner. I think it's great this new senior facility will be located just minutes away from varied medical services. I' d live there, no problem. As for scenic corridor, who cares? Go live in Las Campanas, NW area if that's what you are searching for. To me, that neighborhood looks aged an worn out. Out with the old, in with the new!

karl hardy

Out with the old reasons santa fe became what it was,,,,,,,,,,and in with the new ideas that makes it like everywhere else....? and we wonder why santa fe is loosing its specialness.........it is because of people like you

Joe Ray Anaya

You,,, do..... a>>>>>> terrible***** job%%%%% utilizing'''''' punctuation.

Jan Brooks

you must be unemployed or retired. anyone with this much time on their hands to write endless boring comments on the New Mexican articles must be hard up for a life.

Harold Martin-Smythe

I think it's wonderful. I'm glad our seniors can continue living in Santa Fe without having to relocate to places like Rio Rancho. This facility will employee tons of housekeeping, dietary, nursing assistants, etc. Minimum wage jobs, but jobs nevertheless. I think had this HOA had so much money, they should have purchased the land and kept it vacant, retaining views, home values, etc. "Not in my backyard", sounds like to be. [beam]

Rick Dumiak

[thumbup]

Thomas Franks

[thumbup] You can't propose building anything in this town without the NIMBY's turning out in full force. If one wanted a toxic waste dump, sure, but affordable housing or a senior citizen community? Nimbyism at its worst.

Jill Meyer

I think everyone agrees with you about the need for such a facility here in Santa Fe, The argument is over the location of the facility. Certainly there are other places in the Santa Fe area that would be appropriate for it. I'm not sure why it HAD to be placed there. I don't live anywhere near the neighborhood but can see why there is objection to the facility being placed there and the resulting hub-bub of increased traffic.

Harold Martin-Smythe

Location is 100% perfect: close to major medical facilities. Heck, even walking distance for some, short drive for others. I LOVE IT. [beam]

Carolyn DM

I have a feeling the majority of the inhabitants of this facility won't be walking to the hospital.

Carolyn Cerf

How much 'hub-bub' does an assisted living facility generate? And typical NIMBY argument...great idea, but put it somewhere else. Where would that somewhere else be? In an area with lower income residents, perhaps?

karl hardy

THE LAW NO LONGER WORKS........ LOOPHOLES CONTROL OUR COMMUNITY...........REVOLT...........

karl hardy

Wow, one more time the city of santa fe screws over its residents in favor of out of town companies who will spend the money gained by continuing the destruction of santa fe as a unique community........out of state......

Can we not find investments in our community that does not send its profits elsewhere?

These residents invested in our community, spend money in our community, care for the uniqueness of our community.......... and have gotten screwed.... who can trust any more that their home investments will not be downgraded by the city not following the rules (yes they found a loophole) but it would be better if the thy followed the spirit of the law instead of loopholes in the law......'

i guess this would be called a loophole investment by out of staters who will take their money and run..

Harold Martin-Smythe

@ Karl Hardy--you have a misguided opinion on just about everything. How are you such an expert?


[wink]

Thomas Franks

[thumbup]

karl hardy

Mr Smytee and Mr Franks...........i am so happy you think i am misguided, that means that some one is listening........yes i am misguided.... i do not think that trashing somewhere special is not progress.............and i am sorry that sending old folks (of which i am one) to outside the center of the town is a negative to you.,,,,,,,,,,,,,BUT YOU PEOPLE WITH IDEAS FROM ELSEWHERE,.....PLACES YOU DID NOT LIKE ENOUGH TO STAY...........HAVE PUSHED THOSE WHO LIVED IN SANTA FE OUT OF SANTA FE ............SO WHY SHOULD YOUR ELDERLY BE SO SPECIAL THAT THEY GET TO LIVE WHERE YOU PUSHED US OUT OF..........SEND THEM OUT OF TOWN ALSO

Harold Martin-Smythe

[offtopic]

Carolyn Cerf

How exactly is an assisted living facility, on property owned by the Elk's Lodge, pushing anybody out of anywhere? And the use of 'you people' is always the sign of a desperate argument.

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