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Livability should trump development

The recent ordinance proposal advanced by the Affordable Housing and Livable Neighborhoods Advisory Group, co-chaired by representatives from the development and homeless advocacy community, calls for more density through relaxing accessory dwelling unit (ADU) rules for parking, lot coverage, and non-owner occupied properties.

The proposal bloats density and massing while displaying our city’s insatiable drive for growth at all costs. The advisory group report is also requesting donated city land, city resources, and $3 million of city funds annually to support additional development and programming that would seem to benefit many advisory group members and their organizations.

Remarkably, the report did not address our City Council’s decision in 2016 to allow unlimited growth of short-term rentals. Meanwhile, Christie’s International Real Estate ranked Santa Fe the hottest real estate market for second homes in 2018, which is deeply troubling when considering the lack of affordability in Santa Fe for local homebuyers and renters alike.

It’s hard to imagine that any credible report on affordable housing in Santa Fe would fail to address the underlying crisis of stripping home ownership from residents with sky-rocketing real estate prices driven by second-home buyers, incentivized with short-term rentals or liberal ADU rules.

Additionally, the report did not address or provide resources to resolve issues impacting livability in Santa Fe’s existing neighborhoods. In fact, the ordinance allowing increased density with ADUs is being advanced at a time when our city is struggling to manage overcrowded city streets and experiencing an alarming increase in traffic accidents.

The city’s solution to improving traffic congestion is traffic enforcement over just a few weeks, in the form of a “spring blitz” by police. Short-term traffic enforcement is better than nothing, but is a poor solution to the structural problems of congestion resulting from our city pushing increased density and development at all costs.

My neighborhood in the Railyard recently suffered very painful traffic fatalities at the intersection of Paseo de Peralta and St. Francis. Just a few blocks away, a turning lane near Starbucks on the corner of St. Francis and Cerrillos was recently blocked off due to the high number of car accidents.

Despite public safety concerns repeatedly expressed to our city from exploding traffic congestion at the Railyard restaurant La Choza, at the intersection of Cerrillos and St. Francis, our city continues to issue building permits for additional restaurant expansion. City leadership offers no solutions or resources for resolving zoning failures that create public safety issues for Santa Fe’s residents.

The advisory group’s report was also void of solutions for the serious public safety issues facing our community on Cerrillos Road, in the Railyard Park, along the Santa Fe River, and at our city’s Plaza. Recent newspaper reports of windows smashed, attacks, deaths, rapes and police called to a motel property on average 2½ times a day would certainly seem to require the advisory group’s consideration for livability in Santa Fe.

My neighborhood has made efforts to engage the city for support in dealing with the fallout of the growth at all costs strategy, including on parking enforcement, traffic management, problematic out-of-state owners of rental property, public safety, park maintenance, a vacant nuisance property, and Railyard water grading and drainage issues. Enforcement or maintenance has been so poor that the city’s ability to deal with rule compliance and upkeep in any capacity is highly questionable.

Prior to proposing more growth through ADUs, it would certainly seem well considered, if not basic common sense, to recommend and fund solutions to improve city services and enforcement, our public safety issues and the explosion of incentivized second-home buyers, as well as to address residents’ concerns about fiscal accountability at City Hall, as revealed in our city’s elections last year.

Allowing the destruction and decline of livability while attempting to replace the loss with more development is not sustainable and produces excessive consumption and over-development.

While I don’t advocate a no-growth philosophy, I certainly don’t support a growth-at-all-costs strategy. Our precious water resources are conserved by many in Santa Fe to ensure water sustains traditional rural usage in New Mexico. Residents also deeply value undeveloped land and the gift of passing this city’s assets on to future generations.

Perhaps it’s time for neighborhoods in Santa Fe to have an opportunity to speak on our needs for livability, rather than an advisory group driven by development.

Mindy Paul is a board member of the Ferrocaril Neighborhood Association.

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