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Santa Fe councilors vote down Agua Fria apartments; wrong location for good project, they say

SANTA FE, N.M. — About 1 a.m. this morning, the Santa Fe City Council unanimously voted down two measures that would have allowed plans for the 399-unit El Rio apartment complex on Agua Fria to proceed.

Most councilors said the design and goals of the project by Blue Buffalo LLC were great, but that it was out of scale and not in keeping with the character of the location on 16 acres in the rambling, semi-rural Agua Fria neighborhood along the Santa Fe River.

 Kurt Faust of Blue Buffalo makes presents details of the proposed El Rio apartment complex before the Santa Fe City Council Wednesday night at the Santa Fe Community Convention Center (T.S. Last/Journal).

Kurt Faust of Blue Buffalo makes presents details of the proposed El Rio apartment complex before the Santa Fe City Council Wednesday night at the Santa Fe Community Convention Center (T.S. Last/Journal).

Dozens of people spoke for and against the project, pitched as affordable housing not too far from downtown suitable for young professionals.

See more on this story in tomorrow’s Journal North section.


SANTA FE – A City Council hearing on a proposed a 399-unit apartment complex between the Santa Fe River and Agua Fria Street said to be aimed at providing affordable housing for young professionals went late into the night Wednesday, with hundreds of people watching in person.

At the Journal’s deadline, debate was just getting underway in a fight that was often pitched as new versus old as well as about whether the apartment development was too much for the semi-rural part of town.

Eric Faust, one of the developers in Blue Buffalo, said many changes had been made to the original plan after a series of recent meetings with neighborhood groups.

Faust said that rental rates would range from $750 per month for a 500-square-foot studio to $1,295 per month for a 1,100-square-foot, two-bedroom unit.

Faust said the complex was the right project and in the right place because Santa Fe was in need of affordable housing and was losing residents because of the lack of it.

Opponents said the rents are too expensive for the young “millennials” the developers say they are targeting and that the big problem with keeping young professionals in Santa Fe is lack of jobs, not a housing shortage.

The applicant for the El Rio apartment complex, Blue Buffalo LLC, didn’t complete its presentation of its plan to construct a 10-building complex west of Frenchy’s Field partly on property where the now defunct Ecoversity was located until about 9:40 p.m.

Many of the approximately 270 people attending the meeting held at the Santa Fe Community Convention Center were expected to speak against the plan, just as they did during a public hearing in February at the Planning Commission.

Their concerns then had to do with increased traffic and that the size and residential density of the proposed complex was out of character with the area.

Blue Buffalo has scaled back the plan from the 450 housing units to 399, reduced the size of some of the buildings along Agua Fria Street from three stories to two, and relocated the entrance to the complex.

The company is seeking an amendment to a general plan future land use map that would increase the allowable density of the whole 16.53 acre tract to 29 dwellings per acre and rezone portions of the site now zoned office, commercial and rural residential to high-density residential.

While city staff supported the plan, saying the project was consistent with the city administration’s vision to support job growth, the Planning Commission voted to deny both those requests.

The commission determined that the plan would change the character of the neighborhood and allow for uses significantly different from its current use, that there were other locations more suitable for multi-family housing, that there was a lack of data showing the demand for such housing and rental use projections, and that the project “would seem to benefit a few landowners at the expense of surrounding landowners.”

Even if the City Council now approves the amendment and rezoning of the area, the proposal would go back to the Planning Commission with a separate application for a development plan.

Representatives of about 10 neighborhood associations opposed to the proposal were given the chance to speak at the public hearing first, while dozens of others waited their turn.