Copyright © 2022 Albuquerque Journal
Santolina’s developer is a step closer to building a solar array, wind energy project, recycling facility or landfill within the massive planned community west of Albuquerque.
The Bernalillo County Commission on Tuesday approved the developer’s second-level – or Level BII plan – for certain industrial uses on a 630-acre portion of the nearly 14,000-acre site. It also amended the previously approved Santolina master plan to ensure consistency among the documents.
Garrett Development Corp. applied for the approvals largely to account for a changing water strategy. A project representative told the commission Tuesday that current plans for that 630-acre area require just a fraction of the water that was contemplated in the master plan, which the County Commission approved in 2015.
Garrett now wants to haul in the necessary water in lieu of executing a development agreement with the Albuquerque Bernalillo County Water Utility Authority. Such an agreement was initially required before any actual development could occur, but Tuesday’s votes essentially exempt the 630 acres.
The commission approved both of the developer’s requests over objections from more than a dozen people who made public comment during Tuesday’s meeting and despite a recommendation to deny approval made earlier this year by the county’s own Planning Commission.
The Planning Commission had raised concerns that Santolina’s requests were intended to circumvent the requirement to have a water agreement in place. According to a 2018 ABCWUA analysis, the water and sewer infrastructure needed to service the full Santolina development would cost $659 million.
Opponents who spoke out against the new proposals Tuesday continued to hammer the water issue and the very notion that Santolina should move forward at all. The master plan calls for 38,000 homes and a range of other elements, including industrial operations and business parks.
“There is not enough water right now and there is certainly not enough water for massive water-using developments,” said Kathleen McCord, who, like several others, spoke out during public comments at the meeting, noting the recent dry-out of the Rio Grande through the metro area.
“Reality is screaming at us to stop,” she said.
The commission ultimately voted 4-0 to amend the master plan and 3-0 to approve the Level BII plan. Commissioner Charlene Pyskoty was excused from the meeting and Commissioner Adriann Barboa, who attended remotely, participated in the first vote, but missed the second due to technical issues.
Commissioner Steven Michael Quezada, whose southwestern district includes Santolina, said before voting that he feels people unfairly criticize projects in his area. He cited what he considers a lack of public concern about the Amazon fulfillment center that opened just on the other side of Interstate 40.
“They’re using Albuquerque Bernalillo County water, but yet not a peep, not a protest, not a nothing when it comes to that side of the freeway,” he said.
Commissioner Walt Benson, meanwhile, said he understood water worries, but that he is concerned that a lack of development will lead to other problems, such as people moving out of the state.
“If we all moved, then the water would return,” he said. “Is that what we want? Get rid of all the farmers? Get rid of all the residents?”
Though she has on multiple previous occasions opposed Santolina requests, Commissioner Debbie O’Malley said she supported these two because they represented a “preferable” alternative to the water-hungrier plans, while Barboa said she voted “yes” because she specifically supports the site’s potential as a place to recycle tires.
Any actual development still requires another level of county approval.
Jim Strozier of Consensus Planning, the developer’s representative in the county process, said after the meeting that a landfill operator is presently looking to buy 350 acres within the 630 contained in the Level BII plan.
“While we don’t have any set plans (for the rest), my guess is that it’s going to be solar,” he said.