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Albuquerque development ordinance advances to full council

Copyright © 2017 Albuquerque Journal

An Albuquerque City Council committee adopted 17 more amendments to the proposed Integrated Development Ordinance on Wednesday night and then voted to forward the document to the full council for consideration.

The massive rewrite of the city’s zoning regulations will have at least two more public hearings before the full City Council prior to any vote on it. But the Land Use, Planning and Zoning Committee’s decision to advance it puts the ordinance on track to be approved by the council and signed into law by Mayor Richard Berry before he leaves office on Nov. 30.

“I think we’re vetted, and it’s time for the full council to weigh in,” said Councilor Trudy Jones, who chairs the committee.

The committee voted unanimously to forward the IDO and two affiliated resolutions to the full council with “immediate action” designations, meaning that the items will be presented to the council this Monday, roughly two weeks sooner that it normally would be on the agenda. The measures were forwarded without recommendation.

Voting in favor of the motions were Jones, Council President Isaac Benton, and Councilors Pat Davis and Diane Gibson. Councilor Dan Lewis was absent.

City officials have said the rewrite of zoning regulations is needed because much of what is currently in place dates back to the 1970s and is out of date, confusing and at times contradictory.

But several area residents and neighborhood associations have been pleading with city councilors to slow the process down, arguing that the ambitious rewrite of the zoning regulations could result in unintended consequences.

The West Side Coalition of Neighborhood Associations voted unanimously last week to adopt a resolution requesting several additional amendments and asking the council to hold off on approving the ordinance.

In an email to city councilors, Joe Valles, a member of the coalition’s executive committee, said his organization “is adamantly opposed to approval of the IDO as it remains a work in progress and not ready for approval.”

“There are just too many problems with the IDO that continue to surface day by day – problems the general public is largely unaware of,” he added. Among those problems, Valles said, is an “unyielding intent to stamp out neighborhoods from the land-use decision process.”

Several community members who addressed the committee on Wednesday expressed similar concerns.

“The current zoning ordinance says that if you live 300 feet from a parcel under development, you have standing or a right to appeal a decision made by staff or a hearing body,” said Jolene Wolfley, a member of the Taylor Ranch Neighborhood Association. “The IDO reduces this to only 100 feet. Why would you want to reduce this long-standing right in the IDO?” She told the committee that the IDO also weakens the rights of registered neighborhood associations to appeal land use decisions.

“The IDO reflects a policy decision to severely restrict neighborhood associations and property owners in the administrative process,” Wolfley added. “Is this the council’s intention? Is there a policy in the comprehensive plan that is requiring less community engagement?”

Robert Nelson, a Wells Park Neighborhood Association board member, said his neighborhood association still doesn’t support the IDO in its current form, and he argued that minorities have been underrepresented in the IDO process.

“We ask that the process of the IDO slow down beyond this mayoral election so that our community can have reasonable input, and culturally effective input into this document,” Nelson said.

But other speakers urged the committee to move forward with the IDO.

“The work that is being put in now will have great results upon its adoption, leading not only to increased development in our city, but higher quality, more contextually sensitive projects,” said Ryan McCulloch, with Titan Development. “This will benefit all of us.”

Dave Hill, with Maestas & Ward, thanked councilors for taking on the project and for using an open process.

“I’m in support of the IDO,” Hill said. “It brings quality development to the city. It brings predictable development to the city, and it protects the existing neighborhoods.”

The rewrite of the city’s development rules stems from a resolution passed by the City Council in 2014. The resolution directed the Planning Department to update the Albuquerque/Bernalillo County Comprehensive Plan and to overhaul the city’s zoning code.

The planning department began that process in February 2015. The council adopted the comprehensive plan in March.

Among the measures being forwarded to the council is a resolution that would establish a process for IDO-related zone map amendments that are anticipated should the IDO be adopted.

“There are literally thousands and thousands of properties in the city, and with the broad brush (zoning) conversion that happens in Phase 1, the city does not have the resources to focus in a lot of detail on individual nuances to various properties,” said Chris Melendrez, a senior policy analyst for the council and an attorney. “And so this second phase would give the city Planning Department the opportunity to do that and to get properties converted to the appropriate zoning in the IDO.”

If approved, the IDO will become effective six months after adoption to allow time for training and to correct any errors or omissions that are discovered. Within a year of the IDO becoming effective, the city’s Planning Department would submit a package of discretionary, voluntary zone changes for approval.