Bernalillo County Commissioner Debbie O’Malley on Tuesday will propose postponing any decision on the Santolina development for 90 days, saying there are still many unanswered questions about the plan, and its potential impact on the city and its residents.
The commission is working to have a proposed development agreement between the county and Santolina’s developer ready by May 11 for public review. The agreement would outline who pays for what at the Santolina site.
O’Malley’s resolution will seek to move the target date for a draft agreement back 90 days. “Initially, I had planned to have a couple of town halls in my district,” O’Malley said Friday during a meeting with Journal reporters and editors. “But how does that inform people … when there’s not a lot of opportunity to ask questions? People just speak and it’s over. There’s no interaction … there’s nobody there to answer questions sometimes.”
The resolution she will present at Tuesday’s commission meeting, O’Malley said, “calls for a (90-day) extension of the continuation of the May 11 meeting to have a couple of public forums on this application.”
O’Malley said many people who had signed up to speak at two previous hearings on the massive Santolina Master Plan – which would guide development on 22 square miles on the far West Side near Interstate 40 and 118th Street – never got the opportunity to express their concerns or get answers to their questions.
She said she hopes the additional public meetings will include not only Santolina’s development team, but also representatives from the Albuquerque-Bernalillo County Water Utility Authority and other entities that could be affected by the proposed development.
O’Malley said she had avoided talking to people, either for or against the project, because she had been under the impression the commission would be acting in a quasi-judicial role. However, the county attorney recently said the commission’s role would be legislative.
The issue surfaced publicly after fellow Commissioner Art De La Cruz publicly expressed support for the project in an op-ed piece published in the Albuquerque Journal.
O’Malley also said the sheer scope of Santolina’s application makes due diligence critically important. “We may not get to the actual development agreement on May 11, (so) it could be a continuation of that meeting,” she said. “… we still have to look at the appeals process.”
Other issues that need to be explored further, she said, include financing Santolina’s infrastructure and the impact on the city’s current wastewater facilities that “are barely keeping up” with current demand.
“We have to have a really intense look at the financial model for (Santolina), which now includes TIDDs,” and what effect that might have on current and future taxpayers, O’Malley said. TIDDs, or Tax Increment Development Districts, allow some tax revenue from Santolina to reimburse the developer for building roads and other infrastructure.
Because parts of the city’s aging wastewater system are struggling to keep pace with the city’s currently anemic growth, O’Malley said Santolina probably would need its own system.
The County Commission is set to meet at 5 p.m. Tuesday.