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Will ABQ Council protect Oxbow open space Monday?

How the Albuquerque City Council deals with issues of sensitive lands at its Aug. 3 meeting will set a precedent that would allow any development to create multiple clusters of houses anywhere in the city where land is available. It would evade any worthy consideration for sensitive lands, robbing families of future opportunities to enjoy them. Processes used by the Council and Planning Department should alarm every resident and need to be changed dramatically if they are to reflect the interests of constituents.

Anyone who cares about protecting sensitive lands should keep an eye on the meeting. The Council will deliberate whether to accept the land use hearing officer’s (LUHO) recommendations regarding the 69-home development on the Poole property adjacent to the Oxbow open space on the bosque’s west side. Land this important deserves a bona fide full hearing before the public – with councilors on the record about the process – rather than a mere up-or-down vote.

How they handle this case will tell whether our Council representatives are willing to apply the utmost transparent consideration or simply dodge responsibility in yet another hearing devoid of a meaningful opportunity for citizens of this city to be heard. Anyone attending any of the Environmental Planning Commission (EPC) hearings on the matter well knows of their evident arbitrary, capricious and dismissive conduct. And the City Council’s LUHO report skimmed over significant issues raised by appellants.

That’s’ why it’s imperative the City Council rejects the LUHO and holds a full hearing. The expectation is for more than just another pass-through. The public deserves it.

At the EPC, the applicant’s agent was allowed by the chair to dominate both testimony and time, while citizens’ input and their own planner’s critical analysis and recommendations were summarily dismissed. They essentially gave away the store to the developer. If councilors would read the entire transcript of the 5-hour hearing, they would gain valuable insight into how the EPC worked this case – it’s jaw-dropping.

So why has the city bent backward to accommodate this development? The flawed (Integrated Development Ordinance) is a big factor, as citizens know it to be. And the premature approval to move the project forward by the former city planner days before formal submittal of the application is at the very least problematic. To many it appears this whole process, this heavy-handed rebuke of the public, may be tied to protecting the city from legal action by the developer – best to be sued by residents than heavy-pocketed developers. It’s sad to think that, but the whole precedent-setting fiasco is unexplainable otherwise.

(But factor in) the $4.6 million available from state Legislature severance tax bond funds for the city to use to purchase all or a large part of the Poole property at appraised value. Acquiring adjacent private property aimed at protecting the San Antonio Oxbow Preserve moves forward the exceptional citizen-based effort to acquire the Poole property. This acquisition, should reasonable minds allow it to happen, would be a substantial enhancement to the West Side and indeed the entire city. It would also augment badly needed economic development for the area.

One hopes that reasonable minds will accept this generous offer to use state-allocated funding and/or land swaps and other means available to get this done. This is the stuff of building legacies for both landowners and elected officials, and for the grassroots folk who have given enormously of their time, effort and legal finances necessary to keep this on the front burner. It’s that important.

It’s abundantly clear residents throughout the city intensely support and promote the acquisition of open space opportunities for the enjoyment of future generations. They have a profound interest in preservation of sensitive lands – of which the Poole property is but one example. Does the City Council share that interest? Let’s hope so.

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