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Southeast Albuquerque residents challenging a new homeless shelter claim the city has prematurely declared victory in the yearlong zoning dispute, cutting a major step – the city council – out of the appeal process.
The city says it has the approval it needs to proceed with its long-awaited Gateway Center and that it aims to have the facility ready for overnight clients by this winter. A Planning Department spokesman said a hearing officer’s latest decision to approve the use is final since the neighborhoods never filed a new appeal.
Neighbors, however, contend that the city has not afforded them due process.
“The city is just wrong,” said attorney Leslie Padilla, who is representing three neighborhood associations near Gibson Boulevard.
The neighborhood associations have since last year fought the city’s plan to convert part of the old Lovelace hospital on Gibson into a Gateway Center homeless shelter, arguing that it would negatively impact their area. They contend their district already houses a disproportionate share of services for at-risk populations.
The neighborhoods’ appeal has so far ricocheted around the city’s development review process, where they have gained little traction with their arguments about the project’s potential harm. Even so, they believe their case necessitates a city council vote. The council is the city’s ultimate zoning authority.
The city’s own land-use hearing officer, or LUHO, indicated in a February 2022 written opinion that the appeal was bound for the city council once a “narrow” question about the case had been resolved by a different hearing officer.
What followed that opinion was a series of hearings before multiple parties, including one more with the LUHO.
A zoning hearing examiner subsequently approved the city’s application to use the site as a shelter.
Padilla contends that was all a separate thread centered on that smaller, lingering issue and did not represent the entire case.
But the city Planning Department has a different take.
The LUHO issued “conflicting opinions” in the case, a Planning Department spokesman said. The spokesman said that the city is interpreting the more recent decision to mean that the neighbors would have to appeal again to keep the fight going. Since neighborhoods did not file a new appeal in the allowed time frame, the city’s permit to use the site as a shelter “is final” and “does not need to go to Council,” Planning Department spokesman Tim Walsh said in a written response to Journal questions.
But even the LUHO’s latest opinion in the case seems to reference future city council involvement. In it, he requests a document. He wrote that the document “will add clarity to the Council’s ultimate resolution of this matter.”
Padilla said she thinks the city may be intentionally subverting the process, citing previous oversights on the city’s part. Earlier this year, for example, the city failed to notify the neighborhoods about a scheduled hearing date in the case. That hearing ultimately had to be repeated to enable neighborhood participation.
Given that history, Padilla said it’s likely “bad faith on the city’s part” to close the case before it reaches the city council. She said the neighborhoods are considering their legal options.
But Walsh with the Planning Department said the city is following “its established method” for interpreting LUHO instructions and is not making judgments specifically to benefit the city’s own Gateway Center initiative.
“The City … did not selectively decide to interpret the LUHO’s remand instructions in a way that specifically aids the advancement of a City project,” Walsh said in a written statement.