I am writing to focus our community’s attention on the manner in which development projects within our community are approaching approval; specifically, the so-called quasi-judicial status of our two primary governing bodies. Both the Planning Commission and City Council share this status.
What this means for citizens is that a project being considered for a neighborhood cannot be inquired about, or have opinions offered about it, to a resident’s city councilors. If residents did so, the councilors would have to recuse themselves when the development comes to be presented to the council or the Planning Commission members.
At that point, they become judges for the changes being sought. Both of these governing bodies are involved when the project requires zoning changes or violate existing ordinances that have been used to deny other developments. This means the largest projects, most likely to impact the city residents in a variety of ways, cannot be discussed with the representatives in these two governing bodies by residents of the areas most affected by the proposed developments.
The city attorney has explicitly written of this exclusion in a letter to the residents of my neighborhood, enjoining us from communicating at all with our city councilors, on the matter of the Zia Station development. Our two city councilors reiterated this message to us during a meeting in late 2019.
This same city attorney advised the Planning Commission members on Feb. 18, during the first of two hearings conducted on the multiple exemptions to city codes, zoning designations, the city General Plan and Southwest Highway Corridor Protection act being sought by JenkinsGavin on behalf of Merritt Brown’s Zia Station development, that they were within their role to completely set aside all of these codes and decide to override their governance to approve this project.
Why do we have two city planners, as well as the city attorney, advising our legal governing body to disregard the regulations and ordinances that they are supposed to legally uphold? Why is this quasi-judicial status such that the developers have unlimited time to present their understandably distorted views of this project with charts and drawings of happy, walkable community, of three-story buildings that “read like two-story,” and to respond to questions in a completely separate additional meeting in which community input is forbidden?
Why this, when we are supposedly guaranteed a fair, impartial hearing of the pros and cons of such projects by our governing bodies? Why then are the community members who are waiting to speak in the first of these two meetings (96 of them) given no visual in the presentation on Zoom, and a timed two-minute window to speak on the impact that such a development will have on our safety, quality of life and most importantly the rhetorical manipulation of concepts we do value and support, like affordable housing and “walkable development”?
I am asking the city of Santa Fe’s governing body to take heed and recognize the outcry of the residents of Santa Fe. Zia Station has received initial approval, but this issue is not going away.