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The city has secured a key approval needed to operate an overnight shelter at the old Lovelace hospital on Gibson, a milestone for a project intended to aid Albuquerque’s growing homeless population.
A zoning hearing examiner this week granted the “conditional use” required for the emergency shelter operation at the Southeast Albuquerque site. While some who live nearby fought the city’s application, zoning hearing examiner Robert Lucero found that the city gave “sound justification” that its plan complied with relevant provisions of the Integrated Development Ordinance.
“We have cleared another hurdle to make the Gateway Center a reality – to meet the need for resources and assistance for the unhoused in our city,” Mayor Tim Keller said in a statement, also alluding to the $14 million in project bond money voters approved two years ago. “Voters gave us a clear mandate to step up for the unhoused and we are seeing it through.”
Keller’s administration has for years worked toward what it’s called a 24/7 “Gateway Center” homeless shelter and services hub, and in April finally closed on the $15 million purchase of a site: the old Lovelace hospital on Gibson, near San Mateo.
City officials say they plan to use only a portion of the 572,000-square-foot facility as a shelter, since there are already existing on-site tenants, and plans to incorporate additional service providers. The emergency shelter would provide beds for up to 100 individuals and 25 families at a time, the city says, and help link them to programs and resources en route to more stable housing.
But neighbors have objected to the scope, airing concerns that the project would negatively impact their area. During a pair of hearings with Lucero earlier this fall, critics said more social-service providers are clustered in Southeast Albuquerque than other parts of town and it was problematic to add a new shelter.
Lucero rejected that argument. In his decision memo, he wrote that the city’s comprehensive plan does not require distributing such land uses “equally” but rather “equitably,” an approach that means “assessing the different needs that people and places have and prioritizing resources and efforts to address them in the order of urgency that best matches those needs to move toward equality over time.”
The city, he wrote, has shown “its efforts to locate its proposed overnight shelter carefully and equitably in an area of need surrounded by social and governmental assets and that its operations will benefit not only people suffering homelessness in the immediate area, but in the community as a whole.”
Opponents can still appeal, and one nearby neighborhood association president – Rachel Conger Baca of Siesta Hills – said some associations are meeting to discuss that possibility.