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City Council sends Oxbow plan back to board

Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal

After a two-hour hearing before the Albuquerque City Council, a controversial West Side housing development is headed back to where it started.

The Overlook at Oxbow, a proposed West Side housing development, remains in limbo after the Albuquerque City Council on Monday sent the project back to the Environmental Planning Commission. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Albuquerque Journal)

The council decided late Monday to return the Overlook at Oxbow project to the Environmental Planning Commission rather than grant or reject two appeals filed after the EPC in March approved the Overlook’s site development plan.

Following a highly technical discussion about whether the project near the Oxbow wetlands met the standards of the city’s year-old Integrated Development Ordinance, Councilor Trudy Jones said she wanted the EPC to take another look. She said the appointed board of citizens had the expertise to better evaluate the issues at play. Of particular concern is whether the project exceeds density limits and provides enough open space.

“We’re trying to solve a question here that isn’t normally what we solve,” Jones said, adding that she felt both the developer and the appellants would prefer another specialized review by the EPC.

The council unanimously passed Councilor Ken Sanchez’s motion to remand the case back to the EPC.

Brian McCarthy of the developer, Gamma Development, declined an interview, but provided a written statement noting that previous reviews determined the project was allowable.

“The city council gave this topic careful consideration due to the nature of this unique property,” McCarthy wrote after the vote. “While tonight’s decision is contrary to the prior EPC decision, the (city) planning department’s findings and the recommendation of (a city land-use hearing officer), we appreciate that the council has given this remarkable site proper examination.

“We’ll be back before the EPC soon and look forward to our second vote for approval of our development with a permissive use of a private property.”

Gamma’s plan is to build 76 single-family homes on a 23-acre site above the Oxbow wetlands at the east end of Namaste Road NW. The land – commonly referred to as the Poole property for its former owners, the late Suzanne and Rufus Poole – is located next to the city’s Oxbow Major Public Open Space.

Neighbors have vigorously fought the project, packing the EPC’s March 14 meeting on the development. They argued the plan violated the Integrated Development Ordinance and posed a risk to the bosque ecosystem.

But city Planning Department staff determined the site had proper zoning for the project and met applicable standards. The EPC on March 14 approved the Overlook’s site development plan with certain conditions.

That spurred appeals by Tom Gulley, a retired attorney who lives near the site, and the Taylor Ranch Neighborhood Association. Gulley contended the proposal skirted density standards by featuring two separate “cluster” developments on one parcel. The neighborhood association made several of its own arguments, including that Gamma did not do an adequate “sensitive lands” analysis.

A city-contracted land-use hearing officer recommended denying the appeals, but the council rejected his opinion and decided to conduct its own hearing. The City Council is Albuquerque’s final zoning authority, though its decisions can be appealed in state District Court.

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