The contentious, marathon June 6 Albuquerque City Council meeting proved the point that the Integrated Development Ordinance (IDO) Annual Update process is broken. Amendment after amendment caused confusion and rancor, with some councilors rightly noting programmatic social issues had no place in the zoning code update, and that by bundling so much stuff together, they were at risk of throwing the baby out with the bath water.
At 11:50 p.m., the Annual Update failed on a 5-4 vote but was quickly reversed. This is no way to update these important regulations that affect every person in Albuquerque. How did we get here?
In 2014, the City Council adopted a resolution that directed the Planning Department to update the Albuquerque Bernalillo County Comprehensive Plan, known as the Comp Plan; overhaul the city’s land use and zoning framework, the IDO; and update the city’s technical and engineering standards, the Development Process Manual, or DPM.
In January 2015, a consultant team was hired to help with this ambitious multiyear project, called ABC to Z. It’s the city’s ongoing effort to assess portions of the city called Community Planning Areas (CPAs), update the Comp Plan, and implement annual updates to the IDO.
The city’s long-range planning staff works with each of the 12 CPAs in sequence for four years. Recommendations for changes update the IDO annually and the Comp Plan every fifth year. And then it starts over again.
The IDO Annual Update process has three steps: 1) proposed changes are submitted to the Environmental Planning Commission (EPC); 2) the Land Use, Planning and Zoning (LUPZ) committee; 3) finally to the full City Council. The first two steps generally work well enough; however, there is no metric for differentiating technical/textual amendments from substantive policy changes.
It is during the third step – full council – that the amount of spaghetti being thrown at the wall increases to an unmanageable amount. Floor amendments can be introduced with little or no time for public review, with the amount of pages to review tripling, and the residents who stay involved with this are exhausted volunteers. As the body with final authority on zoning issues, council has the right to do this; however, perhaps they would be wise to pick a point in time – say, after step 2 – to put any new proposed amendments at the top of the list for the next year’s update.
The current update process leads to what happened at the June 6 council meeting: amendments being passed in the middle of the night with no public oversight. There is an assumption that residents are against all change, all development, all growth – not true. Folks are against being kept in the dark and not receiving notifications or information about proposed projects.
Wonder how an apartment building can be built across the street? A tall wall? Worried about where a Safe Outdoor Space for unhoused folks is allowed to be? These are all issues defined in the IDO. The IDO affects us all.
City Councilors are the elected officials closest to the citizens; know yours and communicate with her or him. Know your neighborhood association – if there is not one in your area, form one. You have to stay involved; when the bulldozers arrive, it is too late.