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.