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County may back off Santolina water limits

Copyright © 2015 Albuquerque Journal

Bernalillo County may abandon an attempt to set a hard limit on how much water the proposed Santolina development could use.

A set of conditions of approval recommended for the County Commission – if it decides to adopt the Santolina Master Plan today – would cut language that sought to ensure the development couldn’t consume more than roughly 4.7 billion gallons a year at full build-out, or roughly what the developers said they’d need.

Instead, county staffers now recommend that another agency – the water authority, a public utility governed by a panel of county commissioners, city councilors and the mayor – decide what water requirements are appropriate.

The development team nevertheless would have to show the county, during future planning, that it has a conservation plan that matches county and water-authority policies.

But the lack of a firm water-use limit is a reversal of what county planners and other staff recommended last year.

Santolina_development_15County Attorney Randy Autio said the specific limit is likely “outside of our jurisdiction.”

“It really is a situation where it is the responsibility of the Water Utility Authority to negotiate an amenable agreement, if possible,” he said Wednesday. “The letter we got from the (authority) said, ‘Yes, we believe we can supply water, but we’d have to reach an agreement as to the terms and conditions.’ ”

Santolina’s water consumption is among the most contentious issues facing Bernalillo County commissioners as they consider approval of a master plan and new zoning for 22 square miles of land on the West Mesa, near 118th Street and Interstate 40.

The commission is to take up the master plan – the largest ever considered by the county – and a series of related decisions during a hearing that begins at 1:30 this afternoon.

A narrow majority of commissioners so far has sided with the developer, though there’s been no final decision. Earlier this month, the commission voted 3-2 to reject one of the appeals filed by opponents of the master plan. Opponents have filed three other appeals, however, and the developer contested the earlier version of the proposed conditions of approval.

Job requirement

Also at stake is a proposed development agreement, a 20-page contract between the county and the property owner, Western Albuquerque Landholdings LLC, a Delaware company. That could come up for final action sometime next month.

A proposed draft, released Friday, allows the county to refuse to grant residential building permits if Santolina fails to meet certain thresholds for job creation and economic development.

The goal is to have roughly two jobs in Santolina for every home, or about 38,000 homes and 75,000 jobs at full build-out. It’s part of an effort to bring more jobs to the West Side so that traffic doesn’t clog river crossings as residents travel to work east of the Rio Grande.

But the two-to-one requirement for jobs and homes wouldn’t kick in for quite some time.

There would be a phased approach, with a one-to-one ratio required, for example, by the time the development hits 3,500 homes. That’s still better than the current ratio on the West Side of 0.56 jobs per home.

East of the river, there are 1.39 jobs per home now, according to the Mid-Region Council of Governments.

Autio said the proposed agreement includes a more stringent jobs-to-housing ratio than any other master plan for the Albuquerque area. It isn’t practical to require a two-to-one ratio immediately, he said.

“You’d be asking something four times greater than any of its neighboring properties,” Autio said.

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