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Contentious permitting battle halts ABQ shipping container project


Santa Fe Brewing Company Taproom at Green Jeans Farmery, photographed on Tuesday October 20, 2015. (Dean Hanson/Albuquerque Journal)

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Green Jeans Farmery has a grand opening party planned for Tuesday.

But there’s a big problem: due to unexpected delays in getting city permits, most of its resident businesses won’t be open.

In fact, a city inspector red-tagged the project Monday, according to developer Roy Solomon, halting progress at Albuquerque’s first commercial community built of recycled shipping containers in what has become a contentious fight over its completion.

Green Jeans must submit final engineering, mechanical and plumbing documents for 11 of its units before the city will give the final OK for those tenants to open — documents Solomon said city planning staff told him last month would not be required because he provided those drawings during an earlier phase of construction.

But the city says there have been “deviations” since it approved those initial plans, and Green Jeans must modify its construction to match those early drawings or submit new ones — stamped by the appropriate design professionals — that reflect the current state of the buildings. City officials say state law prohibits them from issuing the final permits or certificates of occupancy (COs) until it has the necessary stamped drawings.

Solomon said he’s so frustrated with the process that Green Jeans will be his final Albuquerque development.

“I’m not going to do another project in this town ever, ever again,” he told the Journal on Monday.

Solomon acknowledges he made changes, citing movement of things like a sink and air conditioning system component. He said those updates were reflected in final architectural drawings he submitted to the city in late September but that the city didn’t inform him he would in fact need the engineering, mechanical and plumbing drawings until Oct. 6. He has not yet been able to get them done.

To date, Santa Fe Brewing Co. remains the only business open at Green Jeans, at Interstate 40 and Carlisle. It launched its taproom there last month.

Solomon called the delays “devastating” for his other tenants — a host of small mom-and-pops, some of whom have already closed existing locations to join Green Jeans. He pleaded for help in an email to Mayor Richard Berry over the weekend, asking that officials perform the fire, safety and health inspections that would allow the businesses to open now, while he works to complete the last set of requirements.

But Planning Director Suzanne Lubar said that is simply not an option. The city cannot take that step without seeing final drawings that have been approved and stamped by the appropriate engineering professionals. Otherwise, she said, “we have no way of verifying that it is in fact safe,” she told the Journal. “We absolutely have to have that by law.”

Berry’s spokeswoman, Rhiannon Schroeder, said Monday the inspections could be done in two to four days once the city has the necessary documents. “… We are committed to making it a priority and will do everything we can to assist this unique project and its tenants,” she said in an email.

Green Jeans has been more than a year in the making. Solomon envisioned a tight-knit community of small local businesses and has since recruited about a dozen of them. They include startups like Epiphany Espresso and SoupDog, but also new locations or relocations for some existing businesses.

Amore Neapolitan Pizzeria closed its original Nob Hill site the first week of September. Owner Gabriel Amador said he expected to be up at Green Jeans three weeks later. Amador said the lag has left his family and his six employees in limbo. Three are applying for unemployment, he said.

“It’s been a huge hardship,” he said.

Tony Lopez of Epiphany Espresso said he has had to delay or cancel orders, costing his cafe money.

Despite the problems, Green Jeans will proceed with Tuesday afternoon’s party as planned. Solomon said he’s already spent thousands promoting it and hiring a band.

“It’s not going to be much of a party because none of us can really highlight what our businesses are about,” Lopez said, adding that he’ll just use the opportunity to shake hands with potential future customers and tell them what Epiphany hopes to offer in the future.