'Safe outdoor space' on Menaul hits a snag as hearing officer sides with opponents - Albuquerque Journal

‘Safe outdoor space’ on Menaul hits a snag as hearing officer sides with opponents

Copyright © 2023 Albuquerque Journal

In a setback for Dawn Legacy Pointe and proponents of the proposed safe outdoor space on city-owned property at Menaul, near Interstate 25, a land use hearing officer sided with seven organizations that filed appeals, maintaining that the city violated its own Integrated Development Ordinance.

The decision sends the contentious case back to the City Council.

In a 48-page opinion released Friday, hearing officer Steven M. Chavez said the city Planning Department’s decision to approve the safe outdoor space application from Dawn Legacy Pointe was “not supported by substantial evidence and violates at least two of the IDO requirements for such decisions.”

The appellants maintained that Dawn Legacy Point and the city did not provide adequate notice to neighboring businesses and neighborhood organizations about plans for the safe outdoor space, and there was no public hearing or opportunity to be heard about the encampment.

Additionally, some of the appellants said unsafe environmental conditions exist at the city-owned property and the application should have been denied on that basis alone.

The City Council will consider Chavez’s recommendation to reverse the Planning Department’s decision during an April 3 meeting.

Safe outdoor spaces are parcels of land where unhoused people can set up tents or park recreational or light vehicles. Two other safe outdoor spaces for people living in vehicles have already been established in the parking lots outside the city’s West Side emergency shelter and the Albuquerque Opportunity Center on Candelaria, just west of I-25.

Appealing the Planning Department decision were the Santa Barbara-Martineztown Neighborhood Association; Crowne Plaza hotel; LifeRoots Inc.; Sunset Memorial Park, Greater Albuquerque Hotel and Lodging Association; Menaul School; and Albuquerque Hotel Project.

Maia Rodriguez, interim spokeswoman for the city Planning Department, said the land use hearing officer’s denial was because Dawn Legacy Pointe “didn’t check all of the boxes to get approved.” In particular, the safe outdoor space is required to have 24-hour on-site services but the application instead indicated it would provide on-call services.

“They are welcome to reapply if they meet that requirement the next time around,” Rodriguez said. “It just really seems like it was a small kind of technicality.”

Karl Holme, executive director of the Greater Albuquerque Hotel and Lodging Association, said the organization’s members support city efforts to find solutions for the unhoused, but the designated property is too visible and sends the wrong message to people from out of town driving through on the interstate.

“That’s our one chance as a city to really promote Albuquerque,” Holme said. “It’s a giant billboard and it really should be a pleasant focal point. It’s kind of like our front door.”

Rodey Law Firm attorney John Salazar, who represents the Crowne Plaza Hotel, said homeless people who daily walk the Menaul corridor already “make it difficult for the hotel to do business” by accosting guests in the parking lot and inside the hotel.

Further, the City Council has approved plans to redevelop the Menaul corridor from I-25 east to the North Diversion Channel.

“It makes no sense to put a tent encampment at the western entrance of the Menaul redevelopment area,” which would attract even more homeless people, Salazar said.

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