ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — A protracted battle over the long-term fate of 23 acres overlooking the Rio Grande oxbow is seemingly over now that Albuquerque officials have cobbled together enough money to buy the property and preserve it from development.
Once slated for 69 new homes, the Poole property — named after its former owners — is now set to become part of Albuquerque’s open space network. The City Council on Monday gave Mayor Tim Keller’s administration the necessary approval to complete the $6.7 million purchase using a variety of city funding sources.
City Parks and Recreation Director David Simon heralded the vote as a “momentous action.”
“It’s really going to be a banner day for Albuquerque when we complete this acquisition,” he told the council. “Thank you so much on behalf of present and future generations.”
Neighbors and other community members had vigorously fought the planned development on a parcel that previously had just two residences, arguing that it was too dense and could harm the bosque ecosystem.
Many hoped the city could protect it through public acquisition.
However, Keller initially was rebuffed when he two years ago asked the property owner to consider a land trade with the city to ensure the property’s preservation.
In fact, the developer proceeded to advance through the city planning process, gaining site plan approval for a 69-home layout and surviving multiple unsuccessful neighbor appeals.
But public officials did not give up on the idea of acquisition.
State Sen. Jacob Candelaria, an Albuquerque Democrat, last year provided a massive boost by spearheading a nearly $4.6 million state appropriation to help buy the land. Keller’s administration, meanwhile, continued attempting to negotiate with the owner. The city finally made headway earlier this year with a $6.7 million agreement, though that meant the city needed to bridge a nearly $2.2 million gap.
Keller in January had asked the City Council to approve taking that money from the Open Space Trust Fund, if necessary. But some councilors and members of the city’s Open Space Advisory Board noted that city ordinance prohibits using the trust fund’s principal balance. Only its interest is available for land purchases.
That sent city officials searching for other funding.
On Monday, West Side Councilors Lan Sena and Cynthia Borrego presented a plan that includes five different city sources, including the Open Space Trust Fund’s accrued interest, bond proceeds and the “set-aside” money individual councilors have to use as they choose. Nearly every councilor contributed.
“This is a citywide project and why so many councilors were able to contribute to this, because they saw the beauty and what it would do for our city,” Sena said.
Bernalillo County Commissioner Debbie O’Malley is also working at the county level to find $100,000, Borrego said, though the city would still have enough either way.