A rendering shows the proposed development from Zia Road west of the intersection with South St. Francis Drive.

The Santa Fe City Council held an hourslong, late-night debate Thursday on a plan to construct a mixed-use housing development near the Zia Road Rail Runner station in the midtown area.

The development, dubbed Zia Station, would consist of nearly 400 apartments and townhomes as well as commercial space and green space on a 21-acre site just west of South St. Francis Drive.

Much of the debate Thursday, the second session of a two-day hearing on the three-story project, centered on how it would help address the city’s affordable housing needs and whether that could be achieved without the third story.

The hearing’s first session, held Tuesday, included a lengthy period of public comments from community members. Some voiced concerns about the project’s proposed height, a potential increase in traffic and the impact on a nearby arroyo, while others supported the project as a needed addition to Santa Fe’s housing stock.

To approve the project, the City Council was required to sign off on a number of zoning changes and remove the development from what is known as the South Central Highway Corridor, which sets a 25-foot height cap for projects within its overlay.

The developer, SF Brown Inc./Zia Station LLC, is proposing 39 affordably priced units at the site, as well as a fee of about $150,000 to the city’s Affordable Housing Trust Fund.

City Councilor Michael Garcia questioned if the developers would be willing to keep the costs of affordable units lower than the market rate for longer than the proposed 10 years.

“Ten is the baseline from what I am understanding,” Garcia said. “Is there anything prohibiting an applicant from going above and beyond that? Let’s say someone was feeling really generous and said, ‘We’re going to set the new standard and do 100 years.’ ”

Alexandra Ladd, director of the city’s Office of Affordable Housing, said city code requires at least a 10-year affordable housing covenant for lower-priced units, as well as a plan to relocate residents after the 10-year period. The city could not ask an applicant to agree to more years, she added.

”That 10-year time frame was very carefully considered,” Ladd said. “It was not just plucked out of the sky. It was in alignment with what the developers we consulted with felt was a reasonable time frame in terms of the financeability of their projects.”

Several councilors questioned how the development would change if the third floor was eliminated from some buildings.

In previous Planning Commission meetings on the project, Jennifer Jenkins, whose firm JenkinsGavins Inc. is handling planning on the project, noted a more dense development was necessary to move forward with affordable units because the number of market-rate units would subsidize the cost of the affordable ones.

City Councilor Carol Romero-Wirth questioned whether the number of units could be achieved without the third story.

Jenkins said the developer had determined this would result in much smaller units.

“I don’t feel that expanding horizontally is the most sustainable way to develop this property, the most aesthetic way to develop this property,” Jenkins said. “And there really isn’t that many opportunities.”

The councilors also were scheduled to discuss building height considerations, traffic concerns, arroyo stabilization and legal criteria for rezoning before making a decision on Zia Station.

(3) comments

Kiki Martinez

Come on, we all know exactly what will happen here - after numerous city meetings and public input the city will approve the project - that's the way it ALWAYS goes - as long as someone is flashing enough $$$ the city ends up approving anything and everything. The meetings and public input are simply tactics to make the public feel as though they're being heard. Mr. Frazier you comment on whether a small town can build it's way out of an affordable housing crisis and the answer is no, how can that happen when more and more people with lots of money keep moving to Santa Fe which raises the cost of housing and property taxes for the rest of us, yet again, the city approves anything people with money want to come and build here. Also, our small town of Santa Fe has already lost it's charm and peace and quiet due to the same ignorance of city hall approving building, building, building - it sickens me to see that the rich are even approved to be building into the mountains so they can sit superiorly above the rest of us with absolutely no concern as to how they contribute to damaging our environment and the ruin of our city.

Ed Taylor

Please update this article. Thank you.

Dan Frazier

The artist's rendering seems very abstract, but I suppose it is better than nothing.

I question whether a small town can really build its way out of an affordable housing crisis. After all, the crisis is nationwide, and the demand for housing greatly exceeds any small increase in supply. Perhaps what is more likely is that a small town with some charm is built up to the point that it loses most of its original charm, which tends to reduce the demand, and perhaps make housing a bit more affordable. You might achieve the same effect by building lots of gas stations or strip malls.

Don't get me wrong, I am not necessarily opposed to the proposed development. As a renter I know that there are few rental options in Santa Fe. I might even want to rent at this new development if it is built and I am still in town. As for the height debate, I do think higher is better if the goal is more affordable housing. Then again, taller gas stations or taller strip malls might achieve a similar result...

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