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Santa Fe mayor breaks tie to allow assisted living facility on Old Pecos Trail

SANTA FE—Despite overwhelming opposition from a neighborhood group and other residents, the Santa Fe City Council upheld decisions by the city’s Planning Commission that allows for a 104-bed assisted living facility for seniors on Old Pecos Trail near the intersection with Calle de Sebastian by a 5-4 vote.

Mayor Javier Gonzales cast the deciding vote a minute after midnight on Thursday morning.

“This is one of those nights I’ll go to sleep wondering why I wanted to become mayor,” said Gonzales, who moments earlier made a failed attempt to have the matter remanded back to the Planning Commission.

Gonzales said that while he had concerns about the scale of the project he ultimately felt he had to follow the recommendation of the city attorney.

The mayor, who ran his successful campaign last year using the slogan “One Santa Fe,” lamented that too often such decisions divided the city. He said his vote to deny the appeal was “in the interest of the entire community.”

Also voting to uphold the commission’s decisions were city councilors Bill Dimas, Carmichael Dominguez, Chris Rivera and Ron Trujillo.

Patti Bushee, Peter Ives, Signe Lindell and Joseph Maestas voted against the motion.

The Planning Commission in April approved a lot split of 8.62 acres of property owned by Elks Lodge No. 460 and a special use permit and a development plan for Denver-based MVG Development to construct the two-story, 73,550 square foot MorningStar Senior Living facility on 3.85 acres. The commission approved the plan with 12 conditions, including time frames for construction, restrictions on street parking, and that the structure incorporate eco-friendly elements.

The Southeast Neighborhood Association appealed the decisions, saying the commission didn’t have the authority to grant a special use permit because MorningStar Senior Living facility did not meet the definition of a continuing care community, relied on a faulty traffic impact study, and that the building was not compatible with structures abutting the property.

While the property is zoned residential and allows for one residence per acre, city code authorizes a special use permit for continuing care facilities.

Roughly 85 people — the majority opposed to the project — spoke during the public comment portion of the meeting, which was held at the Santa Fe High School gymnasium in order to accommodate the large crowd that was anticipated.

Elaine Pinkerton Coleman said allowing the facility to be built on Old Pecos Trail — one of the main thoroughfares into town and the only one that doesn’t have commercial development — “would make as much sense as putting a McDonald’s in the Plaza.”

“Does Santa Fe want to become Albuquerque?” asked Ana Hansen. “We need to respect the last historic entrance into this town.”

Those in favor of the project said such a facility was needed to accommodate Santa Fe’s aging population, that it would create jobs, and that the project met all the requirements of the city code, so there was no reason to deny it.

“They’ve gone above and beyond what was asked of them in the last year,” said David Fitzgerald, who holds the title of exalted ruler of the Elks Lodge.

It was the second time in two weeks the council went past midnight to make a decision about a proposed development in a residential area.

At its June 24 meeting, the council voted down a proposal for a 399-unit residential complex aimed at providing affordable housing for young professionals on Agua Fria Street deciding the project was too dense for the neighborhood.

In other action early Thursday morning, the council approved an ordinance that allows the city to transfer more than $1.7 million from enterprise funds to the general fund. Approval was needed for the state Department of Finance and Administration to consider acceptance of the city’s budget for the current fiscal year. Santa Fe had already submitted its 2015-2016 budget to DFA last month with a $3.8 million transfer of funds from the Water Division fund to the general fund.