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Residents, businesspeople riled up by affordable-housing project, sector development plan

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Darin Goldston at his home at 402 Indian School NE, which sits flush against the lot where the Greater Albuquerque Housing Partnership plans to build a 68-unit affordable apartment complex. Goldston has appealed the city building permit for the site, claiming the project invades his privacy. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/journal)

Copyright © 2012 Albuquerque Journal

Residents and business people in the Santa Barbara/Martineztown neighborhood near Downtown Albuquerque say they’ve been blindsided by a new $60 million, 300-unit affordable housing project, and by “down-zoning” proposals in a new sector development plan.

The Greater Albuquerque Housing Partnership plans to build a multi-family apartment complex at the corner of Broadway Boulevard and Indian School Road, smack in the middle of light industry and trucking activities.

Homeowners and some entrepreneurs fear the project will lower property values and generate a tenementlike atmosphere, while creating an unsafe environment for apartment renters given the zone’s industrial nature. They say the project has advanced without proper notification or input from the neighborhood.

At the same time, dozens of entrepreneurs have united in a new coalition, the Martineztown Business Association, to oppose city proposals to “down-zone” commercial and industrial activities in the Planning Department’s sector development plan.

Darin Goldston, vice president of the mail-hauling company R&C Stage Lines, said his business — and the home he occupies next door — will be directly impacted by the new complex and the development plan. R&C manages an 80-truck fleet that sits flush against the apartment project site.

The Greater Albuquerque Housing Partnership has already bulldozed the site where it plans to build a 68-unit apartment complex, with groundbreaking expected in January. The Housing Partnership purchased the land in 2008, and has been planning affordable housing there since 2009.

Anti-business worries

“This is a truck yard to haul U.S. mail with semis running up and down the street 24/7,” Goldston said. “I think they’re rezoning to drive out business. Not all business, but industries like mine, because they’re talking about attracting more community-focused activities, such as retail stores and coffee shops.”

Greater Albuquerque Housing Partnership Executive Director Louis Kolker said the project is part of broader efforts to “revitalize” the Santa Barbara/Martineztown neighborhood. The area is considered a blighted, mixed-use area where single-family homes sit alongside small and midsize manufacturing, commercial and warehouse operations.

The master-planned development calls for a full square block of 300 “affordable,” gated apartments with small parks, modern landscaping, day care and other services to attract working people and community-based business, Kolker said. The full cost is $60 million, with $13.7 million earmarked for the first phase – a 68-unit complex to be constructed in 2013 and open by 2014.

“The point is to invest in the community, remove the blight and turn it around,” Kolker said. “It’s hard for me to understand how you can be against it.”

A low-income Albuquerque Housing Authority project is located south of McKnight, across the street from the block where the Greater Albuquerque Housing Partnership plans its affordable apartment complex. The Housing Partnership says its project is very different, because it aims to attract working people in affordable, rather than low-income units, which will be nestled among modern landscaping with small park and recreational facilities.

Seeking compatibility

City officials say the sector development plan, which is separate from the Housing Partnership project, will help make the currently contentious mix of commercial and residential zoning more compatible.

“It’s basically one big commercial zone with individually zoned residential areas,” said Lorena Patten Quintana, project manager for the development plan. “(The community) has gone back and forth for 20 years trying to fix this. We’re trying to retrofit it into current use-and-design standards.”

But residents and entrepreneurs say both the housing project and the development plan caught them by surprise.

Vickie Early, a homeowner who lives two blocks north of the apartment complex site, said she found out about both initiatives this summer, even though they’ve been winding their way through the city for years.

Early has since collected signatures from 100 homeowners who oppose the apartment project. She blames the Santa Barbara/Martineztown Neighborhood Association, which supports the Housing Partnership and city initiatives, for acting without input from area residents.

“It’s a political fiasco,” Early said. “The association is run by five to ten members who give their OK on these things without ever contacting us.”

Fliers and signs

Neighborhood association leaders said they’ve passed out fliers and put up signs about both the housing project and the sector development plan, but people don’t come to the monthly meetings.

“We meet the third Thursday of every month and it’s open to everybody and people know that,” said association board member Robert Romero. “I think people ignore the issues, and then when it comes back around, they claim they don’t know anything about it.”

Kolker said he’s met numerous times with the neighborhood association. Patten Quintana and Russell Brito, manager of the Planning Department’s Urban Design and Development Division, said the city has met all legal notification requirements about the sector development plan, and about official hearings on the housing project.

But homeowners said they first heard about those things from Early’s petition.

“I only learned of the apartment complex a couple of months ago,” said Sherry Jackson, whose house rests smack on the south side of the proposed housing project. “It kind of shocked me, because apartment renters will pretty much be able to look right into my backyard and house. I’m not thrilled about it.”

Down-zoning new

Business association members said they knew the city was working on a sector development plan. But most only learned of down-zoning proposals and other issues that could affect them when the association formed last spring.

Jack Stahl, who co-owns a building at the Springer Industrial Center at 1340 Broadway NE that serves as a commercial warehouse and trucking center, said he’s attended some sector planning meetings since 2009. But the plan keeps changing and the down-zoning proposals took him and others by surprise.

“We’re part of the industrial area, and for us to be down-zoned, we can’t see how that’s warranted or what is accomplished by it,” Stahl said.

Association Vice President Jerry Hicks said business people are particularly concerned about proposed changes to permitted property uses, and to new design standards, such as requiring six-foot walls to be constructed between commercial properties and homes.

Those things may yet be resolved, since the Environmental Planning Commission postponed its vote on the plan in August for six months to give the city and business people time to negotiate compromises.

Housing ready to go

But it may be too late for homeowners’ concerns about the housing project. That’s because the EPC approved the site development plan in January, and the city’s Development Review Board granted a building permit in September.

Groundbreaking is only being held up because Darin Goldston appealed the building permit on Sept. 26, claiming the apartment complex breaches his privacy rights, obstructs his ability to operate a solar installation, and ignores local concerns about the project.

The Albuquerque City Council has appointed a land-use hearing officer to examine the appeal, to be heard Nov. 5.

Kolker said homeowner fears about the project deteriorating into run-down tenements is off base, because the project promotes “affordable housing,” meaning only working people with adequate income can rent there. He said single-family homes or condominiums, which are favored by neighborhood residents, aren’t feasible in today’s market.

But Goldston said it’s all moving too quickly.

“This initial apartment complex is just the beginning of a 12-acre master plan for the entire block,” Goldston said. “That includes my land, my business and all the businesses around us.”

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