Recent controversy over a local building heights proposal is symptomatic of how Santa Fe, no longer a small town, continues to struggle with urbanization after decades of sprawl.

City Councilor Roman “Tiger” Abeyta sponsored a bill to allow certain projects to build up to 75 feet in select locations. However, just before it was scheduled to get a hearing before the Planning Commission, he withdrew the proposal.

The bill would have amended the city’s land development code to establish two new types of projects: “qualifying innovation projects” and “qualifying innovation village projects” consisting mostly of offices for people in jobs or industries that help build the local economy and residential developments.

Some residents, including members of the Old Santa Fe Association, had concerns administrators would be able to approve such projects without adequate public input.

While city Planning Manager Noah Berke said a preliminary development plan still would have required neighborhood notification and public hearings, the idea touched on the locally sensitive issue of building heights.

Not just building heights, but housing densities are often a source of complaint about proposed developments, including projects outside Santa Fe’s architecturally controlled historic districts, which already include some of the city’s densest neighborhoods.

Urban planners have long noted the efficiencies and community benefits of fostering compactness versus gobbling up vacant land at the margins, which is the pattern of many postwar American cities in the automobile age. Public transit is less viable, pedestrian life virtually disappears for many and municipal services such as police and fire protection become ever more costly, not to mention environmental impacts.

Certainly, taller buildings are not appropriate everywhere, and the issue is likely to be addressed when the City Council next considers changes to its general plan, last updated in 1999.

We can’t allow the invisible hand of the marketplace to guide all land-use decisions. But any notion that a new structure taller than two stories is inherently bad would be misguided.

Issues spawned by population growth have been a friction point in local politics for many years, even while the city inexorably spreads south and commercial clutter lines its southernmost entrance. And city and county decision-makers have not always seen eye to eye on expanding the urban area.

With growth, Santa Fe is far from a dying town. But it’s most certainly a changing city, and that is the rub. It’s not just long-term worries over water supply, it’s often what is happening to the skyline or mountain views, or to that old Santa Fe semirural aesthetic where coyote fences were once meant to actually keep out coyotes.

Longtime residents, many with deep ancestral roots, can feel resentment toward the changes. Some are OK with it.

But even if you think stopping growth is a good idea, slamming the gate on would-be newcomers or people who simply want to live inside the city where they work has never been viable. Nonetheless, managing change at a rate at which the vast majority of townsfolk can absorb is difficult.

While brown stucco building styles have extended beyond the city’s more tightly regulated zones, things are more dynamic outside the historic core. Multistory apartment blocks have sprung up in the Railyard and immediately south along biking and walking trails with easy access to shopping and transportation hubs. They also have been rising farther south in a city with low vacancy rates and rents that remain unaffordable for many.

This is not all bad, and we believe there are appropriate places for construction of more multiple-story buildings after ample opportunity for public input.

(11) comments

William Mee

To Whom it May Concern:

This comment is written in regards to an “Ordinance Relating to the Land Development Code, Chapter 14 SFCC 1987; establishing Permitted Uses, Definitions, Standards, and Incentives for Qualifying Innovation Village Projects, located within Planned Unit Development Districts, that allow for Building Heights of up to Seventy-Five (75) Feet.”

The hidden costs in the 75-foot tall building Ordinance, are that in the Fiscal Impact Report, it doesn’t take into account that anything over 3 stories will require elevators, a design component in a building that only a few Albuquerque companies will be able to provide. Then to build it only out-of-state vendors will be able to bid. The 75-foot tall superstructure will be in steel, a design component in a building that only a few Albuquerque companies will be able to provide. Then to build it only out-of-state vendors will be able to bid. So what is the point of building this all, when it lessens the profit to the local economy?

It may be possible to have more lower buildings that fit into the Santa Fe Style and don’t obstruct the view-shed. The Innovation Park concept can be welcomed into the community if it’s creative backer is willing to adhere to local customs.

The Ordinance itself breaks with tradition and all the accepted City processes for adopting an Ordinance since the Ordinance Resolution process was instituted at the turn of the 1900’s. This Ordinance is intended to be a “Text Amendment” to the Ordinance process and is the creation of San Diego resident and former Land Use Director Carol Johnson. A Text Amendment requires no advanced public meetings, like the required Early Neighborhood Notification (ENN) meeting since it is perceived as merely changing wording. Yet, the three story limitation has been a precedence for over four hundred years. Granted the first two hundred and eighty years were in adobe, and wall construction could not withstand the weight, but the precedence was set and it was universally accepted as what was livable. Some of those earlier buildings with these limitations of physics still exist.

The Ordinance is featured as “Old Business” although it is clearly “New Business” since it was pulled from the last Agenda without action. Labeling it as “Old Business” implies that it has been publicly presented before and that public comment was received on it; neither of which is the case. If this is allowed to stand as Old Business, all further, controversial proposals can be pulled from the agenda and then advanced to the approval stage as Old Business, without ever coming before public scrutiny. Additionally, no designated staff person is assigned to record the comments received, which breaks with ALL Public Noticing requirements of the past.

The concept that Qualifying Innovation Parks could be approved Administratively by the Land Use Administrator, makes this position a kingmaker. It is beyond any existing power they have presently and violates the Balance of Powers in the new City Charter. It becomes an extraordinary power. This lends itself to corruption when one-man rule is installed.

Out-of-state visitors are already writing letters to the editor about how they think Santa Fe is losing its charm because of over-development. How the City Different is becoming Everytown, USA. Nowhere is this more evident then on the Cerrillos Road Exit to I-25 and its proliferation of Big Box Stores. This is why Santa Fe Beautiful led by Rick Martinez built the first of six gateway welcome to Santa Fe signs. We have five more to build on the approaches before we destroy the view-sheds of previously protected approach corridors.

Normally increased density lowers the price of housing. Recently, the cost of concrete, steel and wood is up 300%. Meaning that building buildings taller than three stories, which require an elevator, will be 300% higher than smaller units. So each 75-foot tall building permanently takes away units that could be used for affordable housing. Additionally, the 75-foot tall building maybe more unsustainable in the future whereas the electricity costs will be higher than the solar energy potential that is possible on top of them; if we look at putting solar arrays on top of every housing unit. Whereas, a solar array may be able to power less than three stories in height. The steel and concrete required in 75-foot tall buildings is much more unsustainable than in smaller units.

We are about to kill the Goose that lays the golden eggs, and wind up with a mouth full of feathers. This town is still billed as a “tourist destination” (recently as an “International designation”) and people that come call it: European, charming and spiritual. If there is NO MORE emphasis on our historic nature and "Santa Fe Style" and Pueblo Style, and the open spaces are turned into high-rise apartments for 4th, 5th, and 6th homeowners it will ruin our Tourism. We are ruining our Eco-tourism also (this is what we are putting all our tourism advertising dollars into NOW; to encourage skiing, hiking, and biking, etc.)---under the course we are under we are in this Ordinance FINISHED as a tourist destination. We need to highlight our historic roots, our European and Pre-European (Native American), our clean air and water, and beautiful vistas and Mountains. The more than 6,000 units built, remodeled and permitted since 2019 are going up and turning this area into New Jersey. No Pueblo style or adobe color. It is all greens, grays, white and orange in the color palate. Not even a fake viga. Yet, they all past the 200 point style checklist of Land Use. People are talking about removing the Historic District in the guise of providing Affordable Housing. Who is making the money off of this? Who will ever come here again on the path we are on?

Brett Bastien

Is that how out of touch you are? Coyote fences STILL ARE for keeping coyotes out... What is wrong with this publication? Does your entire organization live inside a starbucks or something? I can feel your smug attitude through a computer screen.

Karla Harby

Most people are not against all development. The idea that building skyscrapers will magically create high tech jobs for local young people is pure magical thinking at best, deception at worst. The days of "build it and they will come" are long over.

Khal Spencer

Sprawl doesn't pay for itself. When developers promise a pot of gold at the end of the Santolina (for example) rainbow, the pot of gold is for the developer and the headaches down the line, i.e., supporting water, sewers, traffic congestion, car dependence, and spreading future maintenance and upgrades on fewer residents per acre, all land on the residents and local government. As Strong Towns (full disclosure, I'm a member) has pointed out, it ain't sustainable.

We have to find a way to be compact but desirable. I'd start with rezoning the Midtown Campus for housing and take a long, hard look at other empty spaces not already being used as public space and also look at height restrictions in the context of surrounding viewscapes rather than a one size fits all.

Meanwhile, I have to chuckle. "...do we really want to bring in all those extra people?" Well, the extra people moving into my neighborhood are not local firemen, police, teachers, etc. They are the folks from here or elsewhere who have driven up the cost of a simple Stamm home to over half a million dollars, often gutting and rebuilding them into mini-McMansions that drive the price up even higher. The "extra people" who live elsewhere are in some cases locals who have been driven out by those market forces. Just read an article in the NY Times saying that Austin is now unaffordable to people who always lived there due to the influx of high paying, high tech jobs.

https://www.nytimes.com/2021/11/27/us/austin-texas-unaffordable-city.html?searchResultPosition=1

Warehousing those who cannot compete with California et al dollars in high rises will only exacerbate inequality.

So what part of the elephant do we want to start to eat?

kathleen king

Explain, someone, why the only direction to build is "up"? The "old ones" knew that building underground was smart: cooler, warmer, less obtrusive and less consumptive. Further, it is FAR more consistent with the local New Mexican tradition. Don't build "up," excavate and build down. Modern technology makes it even smarter!

Jim Montevallo

"Our View" is our not view.

"Our Not View" is a better name.

How typical of this paper to espouse a slippery slope against one of the most revered, unique and essential aspects of our legend city,

For shame.

We have a serially bad mayor and a sadly weak council and Santa Fe looks, feels and is worse off in almost every way because of it. They can't even manage the golden opportunity of Midtown without cronyism, feeble missteps, and budgetary nightmare. Years and many many millions in, where are we exactly?

Now is absolutely not the time to tamper with the skyline, anywhere anytime.

Let's stop building atrocities, get Midtown a master developer, hold public employees accountable for bad things, and get Webber's goofy box off of our downtown National Historical Landmark because of broken promises and lies before we make decisions that will never be erased and allow the worst administration ever to run rampant with more ill-advised development schemes.

Please.

Jim Montevallo

The tone of this whole piece is skin crawl. Everything is just easy breezy.

Ah yes, the water, the infrastructure--the huge bloated government that can't provide basic services well already, the skyline---those little irksome bothers that will all work out in a time of booming drought, ecological catastrophe, inflation, pandemic, addiction and nasty community division because our reasonable tone says so.

Never mind the Los Alamos scientific studies that have our forests gone in thirty years, let's focus on building tall buildings!

Notice how the editor says "some people.' Remember when a dystopian leader given to lying by the hour would get two dittoheads on state television to make point X and then bellow to the masses, "Some people say X!!!" Then, "Many people say X!!!!!!"

Here's the paper working you over with fallacious logic:

"Longtime residents, many with deep ancestral roots, can feel resentment toward the changes. Some are OK with it."

What a massive Orwellian false equivalency right there. As if the 16th generation folks are equaled let alone even an iota offset by the skyscraper set.

That's some sick stuff right there, and right when we most need clarity, coherence, calm and poise.

Who besides a dutifully dismissed councilor who worked harder at getting high-paying important jobs for his family, btw wholly unreported in this venue, than heeding his constituents and reeling in a wayward and divisive mayor is for more big, foul blights on our legend ancient landscape?

Who???

If we can spend over a tortuous year just getting going on "CHART" because Webber broke a promise and the cops backed down from an attack on our downtown center, then we can do at least that much and more on the desecration to our land, sky, water and air from the surging lust for growth coming at us and suddenly being bolstered by the sorts of fallacious propaganda techniques on display right here.

If you love this city, you will respect it and preserve it first and foremost no matter what. Don't get fooled again.

William Mee

Loe the comment!

Charlotte Rowe

You have to choose what kind of growth is in the city's interest and whether that growth is actually good. Growth for its own sake is a highway to the inferno. Destroying the charm of the city is a highway to loss of all tourism, which is a huge part of our usual revenue. The lower end of Cerrillos Road is a hideous example of what some of these "business" people and growth advocates seem to want to degrade our beautiful unique community into. Housing density per se is not necessarily an evil thing, as it COULD be part of what holds to our traditional aesthetic and charm if it isn't done by some cheap greedy developer who just wants to put up ticky tacky boxes to make money. But do we really want to bring in all those extra people? Why? Everyone assumes that attracting a bigger population is somehow a good thing. It isn't. Stop letting them lie to you.

Stefanie Beninato

We do not only have two story buildings--the Eldorado is 7 stories high; the district court house is a four story bldg that is massive; the apts in the railyard and at So Capitol are ugly generic apts that block views for all but the fortunate few who live there. Look at the 3-4 story buildings going up. They could be anywhere USA. Sure if we want to be the City Soldout---no problem--just keep building taller more generic buildings and see how we get rated for liveability and attractive, pedestrian friendly built environment.

Richard Reinders

Why not wait till all the thousand of apartments currently under construction are filled before deciding to move forward with larger higher buildings. The market will seek its own level, and with market forces in combination with inflation what is currently being built may be too expensive for the average worker in Santa Fe.

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