A year ago, the city of Santa Fe announced it would be selling property to make up expected revenue shortfalls.

The biggest offering in that sale was Las Estrellas — also known as Las Estrellas at Santa Fe Estates — a north-side spread that already has a master plan and access to Santa Fe’s many attractions.

A year later, the land remains for sale, and the city is flush with cash. Gross receipts taxes have recovered from the pandemic crash, with federal and state dollars helping keep city coffers overflowing.

With the need to make money less pressing, the city has time to do this sale right.

This, after all, is prime real estate, open land near N.M. 599 and U.S. 84/285, close to the Thornburg campus. In the year since the sale was first announced, the property value has soared — the wait will mean more dollars for the city, a happy unintended consequence.

Currently, City Council members are discussing how the land sale can be used to send dollars flowing into the local economy. Trouble is, the decision last year by the city to sell the parcel of land — 228.5 acres — in one chunk could make it difficult for any local companies to purchase the land. It’s valued at $5.6 million.

Former Councilor JoAnne Vigil Coppler brought up the idea of making a “local preference” as part of the sale, but questions about what “local” would mean stopped debate. Now, Councilors Michael Garcia and Renee Villarreal are working to define such a preference, a process that is ongoing. Even if that is defined and written into ordinance, it’s unclear whether the entire council will support it. The effort, however, offers an opportunity to discuss the sale more fully.

While we agree that keeping money in the pockets of Santa Fe residents and businesses matters, we are most interested in seeing houses built on the property sooner rather than later. We need housing; more specifically, houses for middle-class families and individuals who work in Santa Fe and can’t afford the prices. The 2005 modified master plan states that “affordable housing shall conform to the requirements of the inclusionary zoning ordinance.” We’d like more discussion about how exactly that translates into homes for teachers, nurses, police officers, construction workers and others.

David Gurule, former managing agent for Santa Fe Estates for 22 years, made this point in a recent interview: Selling the property as a whole unit almost ensures only large national developers could make a competitive bid.

Selling the land in tracts or phases would open up participation, including to local developers, which keeps the revenue circulating in the community.

Before the sale proceeds, the city should do some soul searching. Since the need for cash is less urgent, answer this question first:

What is the goal of this sale?

It could be the city just wants to unload unneeded properties so it can focus on other priorities, including development of the midtown campus. With all the attention on midtown, it’s easy to forget that Las Estrellas is three times the size of the much-discussed campus. Another goal still could be to make as much money as possible as easily as possible. It could be to encourage development — complete with below-market properties — that adds luster to Santa Fe and makes living here more possible for the people who work here. For some councilors, a goal is to keep profits circulating locally.

We don’t recall robust discussions at the council level considering these questions before the sale was announced last year. That needs to happen. Last May, this question was raised in a My View submission: “We would like to know the strategy governing the decision to sell those parcels in their entirety, almost immediately after title was transferred back to the city in September. What alternatives, if any, were considered and by whom?”

Written by Chris Furlanatto of the League of Women Voters of Santa Fe County, the piece went on to urge the city to be more open about the land sale. Those concerns remain valid.

This land offers opportunity for Santa Fe — jobs, neighborhoods, open spaces — but it should be done correctly. Take time to consider possibilities, hold discussions and make the best decision for the city’s long-term future, not just short-term profit.

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