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Real estate professionals, academics, people who work with low-income and homeless populations, and even residents just interested in keeping elderly relatives close to family voiced support for Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller's proposal to dramatically change the city's zoning code.
But the ideas also drew backlash during a public meeting Thursday. Some homeowners argued the changes deserved far more scrutiny and expressed fears they would alter neighborhood character, block views and increase the number of cars parked on the street.
The legislation – created by Keller's administration and co-sponsored by City Councilors Isaac Benton and Trudy Jones at the mayor's request – aims to grow the city's housing stock with Integrated Development Ordinance amendments enabling greater density. It would impact areas zoned for single-family homes by allowing duplexes and accessory dwelling units – also known as “casitas” – on lots with sufficient available space. The bill also relaxes rules for apartment development by removing the height limit in certain areas and reducing parking requirements. It also would allow developers to replace the standard kitchen oven or stove with a microwave or hot plate when turning hotels or other commercial buildings into permanent housing, thus extending an exemption that currently applies only to city-funded projects.
“This is the biggest zoning package we've put forward since the IDO itself,” Mikaela Renz-Whitmore of the city's Planning Department told the Environmental Planning Commission on Thursday.
The EPC, an appointed citizen committee, is tasked with making a recommendation to the City Council. After five hours of discussion and public testimony Thursday, the EPC voted to delay any action until its Jan. 19 meeting. The panel discussed several tweaks it would like to see – most of them somehow limiting the changes or focusing them in more specific areas – but made no final decision.
Only councilors can change the bill itself, which will eventually go through the council's Land Use Planning and Zoning Committee and then up to the full council for a final vote.
Dozens of people spoke on the bill during Thursday's public comment session – the majority in favor of the proposal as a way to reduce barriers to new housing. That included a local real estate broker who said recent housing cost increases due to limited supply had completely priced some of her clients out of the market. Others who testified in support included the head of the nonprofit Albuquerque Housing Authority – who said it now often takes clients over 120 days to find a place to use a rental-assistance voucher when it used to take one or two months – and an alternative transportation advocate who said that increased density could decrease Albuquerque's reliance on single-occupancy vehicles.
Many people specifically addressed casitas, which are currently only allowed in certain areas, as a way to foster multigenerational living, more diversity in established neighborhoods and extra income for residents who may otherwise struggle to afford home ownership.
“It's important for us to create more of this housing stock so more diverse populations in the city of Albuquerque have access to good schools and supportive neighborhoods and not just be pushed into high-density housing in other parts of the city,” said Johanna Stein, who said her neighbors already have “grandfathered” casitas and she would like to build one on her property, too.
But several people affiliated with neighborhood associations and coalitions raised concerns, saying they did not know about the significant proposal until reading it in the newspaper last month and that the public has had little opportunity for comment thus far. They said it could detrimentally impact existing homeowners, who needed to be considered.
“I live in an R-1 (single-family home zone). We chose this area for that reason. People choose their largest investment of their lifetime for a reason, and have an implied contract with the city,” Julie Dreike said. “This is a complex, diverse change that's being proposed very, very quickly.”