Lawsuit seeks to block proposed Elena Gallegos Open Space educational center - Albuquerque Journal

Lawsuit seeks to block proposed Elena Gallegos Open Space educational center

An Elena Gallegos Open Space trail. A lawsuit seeks to block a proposed education center at the park. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Albuquerque Journal)

Copyright © 2022 Albuquerque Journal

Opponents of a proposed education center at Elena Gallegos Open Space filed a lawsuit against the city this week, asking a judge to block plans to build at the rustic Sandia foothills park.

The lawsuit, filed by seven area homeowners and six recreational users of Elena Gallegos, contends deed restrictions dating to Albuquerque’s acquisition of the property prohibit construction at the site.

Foothills homeowners near Elena Gallegos argue the proposed education center would increase traffic, block views and reduce area property values.

“Construction would have an irreparable negative impact on their property value and their quiet enjoyment of their property,” the suit said of a couple listed as plaintiffs.

Another couple says the proposed education center would have a “wrap-around observation deck with mounted telescopes” that would offer a view into the couple’s living room.

The suit, filed Thursday in 2nd Judicial District Court, identifies the city of Albuquerque as the sole defendant.

Earlier this year, city officials began exploring the project with the intention of attracting people – particularly schoolchildren – to the park from across Albuquerque.

A feasibility study completed by Dekker/Perich/Sabatini suggested a 4,800-square-foot building with a classroom, lobby, offices, restrooms and storage space, plus a viewing deck that brings the total square footage to 8,000.

But the proposal drew pushback from area homeowners and others who argue the project would detract from the natural beauty of the open space.

The lawsuit alleges that deed restrictions dating to 1982, when the city acquired the property from Albuquerque Academy, limit the property’s use to such “passive recreation uses” as benches, restrooms, shelters and other “minor recreation facilities.”

The deed also gives Albuquerque Academy some authority to veto proposed uses for the 640-acre park.

But Albuquerque Academy officials say they don’t plan to object to the city’s proposal.

“All we’re saying is, we’re allowing public discourse to play out,” said Julianne Puente, Albuquerque Academy head of school.

“We don’t feel it’s our land to control,” Puente said Friday. “I mean, the city bought it.”

Puente and other Albuquerque Academy officials sent a letter to parents and alumni in October outlining the school’s position.

“You may have heard in the local media that a few area homeowners are against the proposal and, in fact, they have asked the school to use the terms of the deed to stop the project from going forward,” the letter said. “However, it is the position of the Academy Board of Trustees and leadership not to interfere with the planning process, which includes further study and opportunities for public input.”

The lawsuit contends that the deed restrictions still apply to the city.

Wade Jackson, an Albuquerque attorney who filed the suit, said Friday that New Mexico law allows such third parties as homeowners to enforce deed restrictions that affect their properties.

An Albuquerque Parks and Recreation Department spokeswoman said Friday that the city has made no decision about where an Elena Gallegos educational center would go inside the park, what it would look like, or if it will even be built at all. The project remains in the “public input phase,” and there are ongoing environmental and engineering studies, she said.

At this point, spokeswoman Franchesca Perdue said, the city “has done nothing to violate the terms of the deed,” though she noted the deed does allow some types of buildings.

“Whether or not a project would be consistent with the deed will depend on those (future) specifics,” Perdue said in a written response to Journal questions. “(The Parks staff) have had a preliminary discussion with the Albuquerque Academy so that they understand the general project concept and any constraints. As far as we know, the Academy has stated they do not object to the continuation of the public process.”

The city’s feasibility study identified two potential building sites: A spot next to the Cottonwood Springs Trailhead and a parcel inside the park’s paved Loop Road. Perdue also said the proposed 4,800-square-foot floor plan remains conceptual.

“The Open Space Division would not propose a project that we feel would unacceptably impact the Elena Gallegos Open Space, and we will continue to advocate for increased access and social equity in environmental education,” she said.

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