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SF Council OKs changes to land use code

Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal

Daniel Werwath, chief operating officer of New Mexico Inter-Faith Housing, speaks to a rally in support of reducing restrictions on the rental of “accessory dwelling units” outside Santa Fe City Hall Wednesday. (T.S Last/Albuquerque Journal)

SANTA FE – The City Council here late Wednesday night approved amendments to the city’s land use code aimed at making it easier for people to build and rent out “accessory dwelling units” – such as casitas or guesthouses – as long-term rentals.

About 10:30 p.m. and after about three hours of debate and public comment, almost all of the city governing body – the council and Mayor Alan Webber – backed the proposal. Councilor Carol Romero-Wirth cast the only “no” vote.

The amendments change the code to allow two rental homes on single-family lots – effectively creating duplex lots – and reduce parking requirements and change the construction rules of ADUs. The most controversial change drops an existing requirement that a property owner must reside on the lot before a second unit, such as a casita, can be rented out.

The issue has been illustrated in recent months when Jamie Durfee, who lives in a rental casita in the South Capitol neighborhood, faced eviction after several residents of Don Cubero Avenue complained that Durfee’s absentee landlords – attorneys Jeffrey Haas and Mariel Nanasi – were renting out two residences on one lot in violation of the city code.

Those opposed to dropping the owner-occupancy requirement for two rentals on a lot argued that the change would lead to the commercialization of residential neighborhoods – sometimes by out-of-state speculators – increase traffic and create parking problems, infringe on privacy and dramatically alter the character of neighborhoods.

Those in favor of relaxing regulations on ADUs said adopting the amendments would address the city’s housing shortage by increasing the housing inventory and give homeowners the ability to supplement their incomes by renting ADUs to long-term tenants. They maintain homeowners opposed to the changes are anti-renter or even racist.

Durfee, a recruiter for Descartes Labs, was one of dozens of people who spoke in favor of the amendments during a public hearing Wednesday night.

“People shouldn’t have the privilege to select who can and who cannot live in their neighborhood,” she said, adding that she had been bullied by neighbors from an older generation.

Durfee and others said the city needs to do more to make room for the younger generation.

Sophia Howards, who noted she was one of few people in the room under age 25, complained about the number of second homes in town that are vacant.

“There are no young people here, and the reason is we don’t have housing we can afford,” she said tearfully.

Several opponents of the proposal, among them former City Councilor Karen Heldmeyer, urged the council to delay a decision to allow for more discussion.

“We shouldn’t be here right now,” she said, adding that the amendments had been fast-tracked without much community discussion. “I hope we can have a real discussion.”

Barbara Frick said she thought it was ironic that the city was going to adopt new regulations when it couldn’t enforce existing regulations, a common complaint among those opposed to the changes.

Councilor Romero-Wirth agreed. She was the one councilor who advocated delaying action because the item had been heard only by the Public works Committee.

“And as a result, this is the first time I’ve heard this bill and the first time I could make changes,” she said. She wanted changes to help prevent speculators from buying houses and adding casitas to have two rentals.

She said she wanted the council to limit permits for two rentals on a single lot to one per property owner, institute a trial period and revisit how the changes were working in six months to a year, as well as include in the ordinance occupancy standards that would limit the number of people living in an ADU.

But the rest of the council and Mayor Webber were ready to move forward.

Councilor Peter Ives called it a “modest proposal to try to solve some of the issues we have.”

“It really is a first step,” he said. “Rather than pause, let’s move forward and see what happens.”

Mayor Webber also urged the council to press ahead. He said it was a first step to a larger undertaking.

“This is not a single item; this is a strategy,” he said, adding that the goal was to provide options for housing. “This expands the options.

The city’s Planning Commission and Land Use Department staff recommended that the City Council adopt the amendments. Mayor Webber, who made addressing Santa Fe’s housing issue a priority when he took office last year, has also been outspoken about his support of the changes. The mayor’s task force on affordable housing went only so far as to the city should take steps to make it easier to build ADUs, but didn’t address the owner-occupancy provision.

A previous report by the Santa Fe Housing Action Coalition recommends eliminating the owner-occupancy requirement for ADUs but keeping it in place for dwellings that are rented on a short-term basis.