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ABQ needs to strike a zoning balance

In a perfect world, everyone would live happily as neighbors. However, we can only strive to be a healthy community. The recently adopted Albuquerque Integrated Development Ordinance (IDO) or new zoning was thought to create a “happy” world when adopted. That is until it was time to be implemented, and then the discussion about what was left out began.

So the city Planning Department is beginning a new process of reviewing and recommending to the City Council nearly 500 amendments to the document – 500 amendments a year after adoption?

As a city planner for more than 30 years, I know this situation could have been avoided if the city had slowed down the adoption process and planners had worked a little harder and a little longer to bring more consensus to what was being adopted as the law of the land. In fact, in my first year as a councilor, I proposed O-18-6, Amending The Effective Date of The Integrated Development Ordinance to Add An Additional 12 Months To The Review Period, fully intending to slow the adoption process a bit until the IDO had been … completely vetted. My bill could not get a second at the Land Use, Planning and Zoning Committee (LUPZ) meeting.

So, now, neighborhoods that supported my bill want their sector plans back, as do some elected officials, and developers are upset. …

You see the city did a complete 180-degree turn when it comes to zoning in Albuquerque. As a community we changed from a traditional-based zoning code – originally adopted in 1957 and amended throughout the years – to a form-based code (that is) clearly design based. It was thought that this newly adopted zoning approach would solve all of our community development problems and stimulate growth in the community by eliminating sector development plans, or, as some thought, regulations upon regulations. What is zoning if it’s not meant to be regulatory?

Albuquerque’s sector development plans each community previously cultivated and adopted took years to create. Planners examined each community’s assets to tailor zoning categories designed to preserve community character and each neighborhood’s unique identity. This approach should have been seen as an asset and not a regulatory liability. … What we didn’t anticipate with the new form-based zoning structure is it is simply establishing a similar avenue for generic regulation throughout our communities, thus losing some of Albuquerque’s unique identity and integrity. Ironically the regulations and bureaucracy still exist, in a different format with less constraints on character preservation. Have we struck a balance yet? I argue we have not.

So, where do we go from here? The city has now adopted form-based zoning, and it’s making a lot of people unhappy as the character of our neighborhoods is at stake in the translation. While we all understand that change is inevitable in our communities and regulations are designed to be fluid as plans change, as we move forward as a community it is also essential to remember and begin work to amend our city regulations with the important idea that we must strike a balanced approach.

This allows for development to occur, though not at the stake of losing what attracts us all to Albuquerque in the first place. This balance should pay special attention … to our city’s irreplaceable uniqueness, diversity, history and character in order to showcase her special beauty. It is not an easy task to create regulatory authority agreeable to residents, developers and commercial interests, but it can be accomplished through the practice of balancing the past with the present and our vision for the future.

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