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Editorial: Allowing senior living center a good call

Santa Fe Mayor Javier Gonzales broke a City Council tie to approve allowing a new assisted living facility on Old Pecos Trail Wednesday night. He’s shown here just before his vote, which came after hours of discussion of the development proposal. (Courtesy of City government video)

Santa Fe Mayor Javier Gonzales broke a City Council tie to approve allowing a new assisted living facility on Old Pecos Trail Wednesday night. He’s shown here just before his vote, which came after hours of discussion of the development proposal. (Courtesy of City government video)

Three members of the Santa Fe City Council and Mayor Javier Gonzales did the right thing in refusing to overturn its Planning Commission’s decision to allow a 104-bed assisted living facility for seniors on Old Pecos Trail at Calle de Sebastian.

It’s a little hard to imagine how neighbors think such a development would harm their quality of life and ruin the much-vaunted last scenic entrance into Santa Fe. Are they expecting flashing neon lights, nightly rock music concerts, heightened crime or trash-strewn lots?

The visual impact, especially with some careful landscaping, and traffic impacts shouldn’t be much worse than those resulting from the motel/restaurant not far from the Interstate 25 exit, or the office buildings clustered along Calle Medico just off Old Pecos Trail, or the many churches along that road, or, for that matter, the Santa Fe Woman’s Club, which often causes overflow parking issues with certain craft sales and shows held there.

It’s not as if someone is trying to build a big-box store, a fast-food joint or other such eyesores that line the Cerrillos Road corridor. A senior living center seems as if it would be a reasonable fit.

Somehow, the Ponce de Leon Retirement Community manages to co-exist with a nearby residential neighborhood. Pacifica Senior Living, while set back from the road, is located across the street from a residential neighborhood with only one road in and out, but major traffic problems haven’t been reported since its opening.

And another senior living center, El Castillo, is nestled right along the river in downtown Santa Fe’s historic district without horrifying people bent on resisting change – although, granted, it has been there a good while.

One woman testifying at Wednesday night’s City Council meeting compared the proposed development to the Great Wall of China. Really? The height of the two-story building may compare to the 16- to 26-foot height of the Great Wall, but its length falls a little short of the 5,500 miles of China’s wall. And the developer has talked about sinking the building a bit so its profile would be lessened.

Our population is aging, not just in Santa Fe, but in the entire country. We need housing options for our seniors as they become less able to care for themselves in their own homes. Some of the residents protesting this development might someday be looking for such a place to live in themselves.

Wouldn’t they like to be near a nice neighborhood, with trees and quiet, rather than warehoused in some industrial or commercial part of town? Quality of life in our neighborhoods is important; so is the quality of life for our senior citizens.

As a matter of fact, instead of protesting this MorningStar Senior Living facility, wouldn’t it be nice if neighborhood residents visited it frequently once it’s built, offering companionship and volunteer assistance to the people who will be living there?

This is not to say that all the kinks are worked out of the plan. Residents make a good point about vehicles from Calle de Sebastian being unable to turn left onto Old Pecos Trail. They expressed concern that people wanting to travel in that direction from this high-density development would end up driving the length of their neighborhood road instead.

City officials should look at whether it would be worth considering eliminating that median blocking a left turn onto Old Pecos Trail and, if traffic volume warrants it, even installing a light there.

City planners and developers should identify and ameliorate any other issues, such as lighting, sound, landscaping or whatever else might truly cause a disturbance to neighbors.

But, bottom line, let’s replace our resistance to virtually anything new anywhere near where we live, a chronic condition that sometimes cripples Santa Fe, with increased cooperative efforts to find the best ways to make reasonable development work.

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