Despite impassioned pleas from dozens of residents, Bernalillo County commissioners are giving Santolina developers more time to provide a water plan for the 21-square-mile development southwest of Interstate 40 and 118th Street.
During Tuesday’s special County Commission zoning meeting, dozens of individuals spoke out against Santolina and the modification of the water plan requirements.
“Don’t let this move forward until we figure out the water,” Sayrah Namaste urged commissioners.
But at the end of the night, commissioners voted 3-1 to follow the recommendations of county staff and the County Planning Commission and to allow the developer to move forward with the next step of the process prior to having a water plan worked out.
Commissioners Wayne Johnson, Lonnie Talbert and Steven Michael Quezada voted in favor of modifying the conditions while Commission Chairwoman Debbie O’Malley voted against it. Commissioner Maggie Hart Stebbins was absent.
When commissioners approved the Level A Master Plan for the development in 2015, they included several conditions. Among them was that Santolina have a fully executed development agreement with the Albuquerque Bernalillo County Water Utility Authority, that it address water conservation and that any water and wastewater issues be resolved prior to the next phase of the Master Plan being approved. But the developer asked for those conditions to be modified, asserting that officials at the water authority don’t want to tackle the water plan until there’s a Level B Master Plan in place.
The Level A Master Plan that has already been approved is a general conceptual plan. The Level B plan contains the specificity on the development required to assess the development’s water needs, the developers argued.
Tuesday’s vote to modify the Santolina Level A Master Plan conditions means that the water planning documents will now be required prior to the Level C development plans being filed with the county.
Commissioners also voted 4-0 to deny an appeal filed by SouthWest Organizing Project and several other organizations and individuals who were unhappy with the County Planning Commission’s recommendation to modify those conditions.
Jaimie Park, an attorney with the New Mexico Environmental Law Center, who argued on behalf of SouthWest Organizing Project and the other Santolina opponents, told commissioners that if they agreed to the amendments they would essentially be undermining their own ability to assess whether the water plan they come up with complies with the requirements and they would be eliminating the public’s right to provide public comment and testimony because the water issues would be handled at an administrative level.
But John Salazar, the attorney representing the Santolina developers, said the County Commission wouldn’t review the water development agreement because there is a water authority now that handles that process. He said the county just wants to know that there’s an agreement in place. As for the assertion that the public won’t be able to comment on the water plan for Santolina, Salazar noted that the water authority is a public board that holds public meetings. He also pointed out that three county commissioners sit on the water authority board.
“Nobody is being cut out of the process,” he said.
The Santolina development could some day be home to 90,000 people, which is about the size of Rio Rancho.
Nearly everyone who took part in Tuesday’s public hearing spoke out against the project.
“Albuquerque is hemorrhaging humans,” said Danger K. Varoz. “There’s no need (for a development like this). There’s just a want for this.”
Roberto Roybal, who identified himself as the president of the Pajarito Village Association, said his community is afraid of losing its water.
“We don’t need urban sprawl, and that’s what Santolina is about,” he said.
Commissioners had also been scheduled to consider Santolina’s first Level B Master Plan, but they decided to take that matter up at a special zoning meeting scheduled for 5 p.m. on Aug. 30.
That Level B plan that has been submitted covers about 4,200 acres and is in the northwest and northeast portions of the Santolina property. That plan, which covers about a third of the Santolina property, envisions a maximum of about 9,400 households.
The Level B plan includes residential and commercial uses in village centers, along with a portion of a large town center, a business park, and an industrial park. Open space, recreational facilities and other public facilities such as schools are included in that plan.