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El Rio developer proposes smaller project

SANTA FE – The developers behind the huge, controversial El Rio apartment plan that the City Council voted down last year have come back with a much smaller development proposal on part of the same site.

The latest plan calls for about 122 apartments in one- and two-story buildings on 6 acres on Agua Fria Street at Boylan Lane.

The basics of the proposal were presented at an early neighborhood notice meeting at the Main Library downtown Tuesday night that was attended by about 25 people. Consultant Jennifer Jenkins said the developers want substantial input “from everyone” on the new apartment plan, “something we didn’t do last time.”

In June 2016, the City Council voted down Blue Buffalo LLC’s El Rio project, which called for 399 units in 10 buildings on 16.5 acres, after hours of public comment. The proposal set off an intense community debate about the need for rental housing and apartments geared toward young people in Santa Fe. In the end, counter-arguments that the project was too dense and wouldn’t fit in with Agua Fria’s rambling, semi-rural mix of existing development won out.

Jennings said Tuesday night that no rezoning is necessary for the new proposal in what she called “the most unique area in the city” but that a development plan would still need to go before the Planning Commission and City Council.

Unlike El Rio, the complex of one- and two-bedroom units would not extend all the way from Agua Fria north to the Santa Fe River but would reach the river parkway. Jenkins said 1.7 acres of the site would be left as open space and there would be 179 parking spaces. Lighting would be kept “as minimal as possible,” she said.

In response to a question, she said the 122 units are not the first phase of a larger development. An owner of adjacent property that was formerly the site of the Ecoversity school says there are no plans to sell that land for a dense, multi-family development.

One nearby resident said the new plan is better than El Rio but that it’s still not right for the area and that the neighborhood doesn’t have the infrastructure and traffic capacity for the proposed apartments.