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Landmarks commission questions ART project

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Members of the city landmarks commission raised serious questions – and offered a fair share of criticism – on Wednesday as they reviewed the proposed design of a new bus rapid transit system.

But the commission made no final decision on whether to grant a “certificate of appropriateness” for the half-mile portion of the project they reviewed, roughly between Downtown and Interstate 25, in the historic East Downtown, or EDo, and Huning Highland neighborhoods.

Instead, the commission scheduled the project – a priority of Mayor Richard Berry – for another hearing in mid-May.

Much of Wednesday’s discussion focused on the design of a bus station that would lie in the middle of Central Avenue, near Walter.

Lauren Austin, a member of the landmarks commission and resident of the Huning Highland neighborhood, said the stripped-down, simplistic design would stick out like “a sore thumb. It just doesn’t fit into an historic neighborhood of this age.”

Homes in the area date to the turn of the century, or roughly the 1880s to 1920s, she said.

The proposed station is “beyond ugly,” she said.

Robert Heiser, an architect and member of the commission, directed the city’s Transit Department to meet with neighborhood leaders to consider what changes can be made to address their concerns. He suggested the possibility of using different materials – brick, as an example – that might make the station fit in better with the rest of the area.

Assistant City Attorney Blake Whitcomb said the project team would examine the neighborhood’s ideas and the possibility of changing the station’s look. But he didn’t sound hopeful about making significant changes at this point in the project, after it’s already been reviewed by the Federal Transit Administration and other agencies.

One priority of the neighborhood, for example, is the addition of a canopy to the bus stop, which may be prohibited by state historic preservation officials, according to the city.

The debate centers on a $119 million plan to build a network of dedicated bus lanes and bus stations in the middle of Central Avenue, roughly between Coors and Louisiana.

Most of the funding would come from the federal government, which hasn’t yet made a final decision. But if all goes well, supporters say, construction could begin this summer.

The project is now before the city’s Landmarks and Urban Conservation Commission, a board appointed by the mayor and City Council. A zoning plan for the area requires review by the commission.

Landmarks commission decisions can be appealed to the council itself.

Of the five members present Wednesday, only one expressed support without much reservation.

Others indicated they might support the project, but they wanted to decide after the city Transit Department considers changes aimed at satisfying neighborhood representatives.

The EDo and Huning Highland neighborhoods are seeking more on-street parking in the corridor, a canopy on the Walter station and other changes.

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