Keller seeks 'transformative' updates to zoning code - Albuquerque Journal

Keller seeks ‘transformative’ updates to zoning code

A new apartment building is under construction on Central and 22nd. Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller is proposing a bevy of zoning code changes to facilitate more multi-family housing and other housing options in Albuquerque. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Journal)

Copyright © 2022 Albuquerque Journal

Mayor Tim Keller is seeking what he calls “transformative” updates to Albuquerque’s zoning code that could increase density in single-family home neighborhoods and relax some rules on apartment construction – all part of his effort to bolster housing development in New Mexico’s largest city.

Outlined in newly released legislation, the proposed changes would allow duplexes and casitas on nearly all single-family-home lots, eliminate height limits on apartment buildings in certain zones, and loosen kitchen requirements when turning commercial buildings into housing. It also reduces parking requirements for some multi-family development.

The bill – co-sponsored by City Councilors Isaac Benton and Trudy Jones at Keller’s request – provides a more detailed look at how the mayor intends to meet his goal of adding an extra 5,000 housing units to the existing supply by 2025.

“The proposed changes are intended to be transformative, which is fitting for the crisis facing our local government, thousands of families in our community, and our housing partners,” Keller wrote in an Oct. 28 memo to Benton included with the bill.

The legislation cites the city’s housing shortage and rising rents.

Average rent for a one-bedroom apartment in Albuquerque is currently $1,137, according to Rent.com. That’s slightly less than last November’s average, according to the listing website’s data, but 40% higher than immediately before the pandemic.

And a recent housing strategy analysis from the New Mexico Mortgage Finance Authority found that Bernalillo County – which contains Albuquerque – needs 10,153 more housing units by 2025 to account for expected population growth.

Keller last month unveiled a multi-pronged strategy to push the pace of housing development, which includes promoting new options at the neighborhood level – like casitas, or “accessory dwelling units” – and converting hotels and offices into housing. He had signaled his intention to propose affiliated changes to the zoning code, known as the Integrated Development Ordinance.

Councilor Jones said she fully expects some of the proposals to generate backlash, just like an unsuccessful casita bill did several years ago. However, she said the city needs to set the stage for more housing development and density in certain places or risk losing new workers and younger generations.

“Some of us want to keep our families here, want to keep our children and grandchildren here,” she said, emphasizing that density could promote more affordability. Albuquerque may not want sprawl, she said, but it should welcome growth.

“We can’t stay the little town that we were forever,” Jones said.

The legislation would dramatically increase options in the “R-1” residential zone, which is for single-family home lots. The majority of zoned properties in Albuquerque – 68% – are R-1, according to the legislation, and encompass 23% of the city’s total geographic area.

The proposal would allow detached casitas up to 750 square feet and duplexes on lots in the zone, but would not override special casita rules already in place in certain areas, such as Barelas, High Desert and South Broadway, said Mikaela Renz-Whitmore, the urban design and development division manager in the city’s Planning Department.

Development anywhere in the R-1 zone remains subject to rules about yard size and setbacks.

The legislation could potentially triple density on the lots and address the zone’s inherent “exclusionary effects,” according to the legislation.

“One of the effects of large lots with only one house on them is of course to price people out of there who may not have the same financial resources,” Planning Director Alan Varela said in an interview.

Other changes in the bill pertain to multi-family development.

Developers converting non-residential buildings to multi-family housing would not have to meet the existing kitchen standard of having a cooking stove, range or oven in each unit. They would only have to provide a microwave, hotplate or warming device.

The bill also would eliminate height limits for mixed-use development and for multi-family housing in the highest-density residential zone.

Currently, height limits in those areas vary. In the high-density residential zone today, caps range from 48 to 65 feet, though certain types of projects earn bonuses that raise the limit to 77 feet. In mixed-use zones, present limits range from 30 to 75 feet, though they could reach 111 feet with structured parking and other project bonuses.

The bill would tackle parking requirements too. It exempts projects where at least 20% of the residential units will be affordable housing from providing off-street parking and reduces current requirements for other multi-family and mixed-use developments by 75%.

Under existing rules, multi-family development needs 1-1.8 off-street parking spaces per dwelling unit generally based on the number of bedrooms per apartment.

The idea is to lower the cost of construction, thus increasing the supply of multi-family dwellings, the bill states.

Varela acknowledged that the proposal is “bold,” but said the housing need warrants such action.

“We need to figure out a way for Albuquerque to grow inwards as well as upwards, and that is what this helps accomplish,” he said.

The legislation will travel alongside the city’s annual Integrated Development Ordinance update, going through the monthslong process that includes public meetings with the Environmental Planning Commission, the City Council’s Land Use Planning & Zoning committee, and the full council.

Benton said he anticipates the proposals – particularly the R-1 changes – will spark outcry and not even he agrees with everything Keller wants. But he said the current climate demands this kind of conversation and the public will have ample opportunity to comment.

“These are things that have been discussed over the years with regard to housing affordability, so it’s not new,” he said. “A lot of cities are doing this – just really taking a look at their low-density zoning and seeing if there are any opportunities there for more density.”

Editor’s Note: This story has been corrected to reflect that the New Mexico Mortgage Finance Authority was the agency that reported Bernalillo County needs needs 10,153 more housing units by 2025.

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