A pair of thick planning documents is not exactly light reading, but given the stacks of manuals and binders now governing Albuquerque’s development, they promise to make dealing with the city much easier.
A two-year rewrite of the city’s comprehensive plan, also known as the ABC-Z project, is an attempt to bring “clarity and predictability” to development regulation for the next 20 years – and perhaps attract more private-sector investment, Mayor Richard Berry said during a presentation to the Journal last week.
“It’s going to be simpler, more concise and understandable,” Berry said while gesturing to a photograph of existing planning and regulatory documents – a stack several feet high and thousands of pages long. The pile represents what is now used by city planners, neighborhood leaders and the business community to plot growth in Albuquerque.
A maze of 60 sector plans – often contradictory or subject to interpretation – govern new development in specific neighborhoods, with 40 having their own “distinct zoning guidelines,” said Mikaela Renz-Whitmore, a senior planner with the city.
This can force developers to wade though a host of documents before deciding on issues as basic as where or if to build.
City Planning Director Suzanne Lubar said many developers and neighborhood leaders alike have complained over the years about the difficulty of navigating and winning approvals for building projects and zoning changes.
Updating the comprehensive plan to keep up with growth trends is essential, given that Bernalillo County’s population of 680,000 is expected to grow by 300,000 by 2040, Lubar said.
The number of zones is proposed to go from over 250 to fewer than 20. That means the city can better “administer and enforce the zoning system consistently,” according to a city website.
Besides economic development and job creation, key goals are to “improve protection for the city’s established neighborhoods … and respond to long-standing water and traffic challenges by promoting more sustainable development,” the website said.
At least one New Mexico business group is welcoming the update.
“The plan hasn’t been updated for (nearly) 20 years, and we’ve been using a Band-Aid approach in the sector plans, many of which overlap,” said Lynne Anderson, executive director of NAIOP, the trade association for commercial real estate and developers. “It just doesn’t make sense.”
Berry quoted plan rewrite consultant Clarion Associates as saying Albuquerque’s current planning and regulatory system is the worst the company has encountered in the cities with which they have worked.
The first expansive update to the document since 2001, this new 20-year “vision guide” basically sets a course for how Albuquerque will grow, Berry said. Filled with an alphabet soup of planning acronyms, the proposed document addresses land use, transportation, environmental sustainability and cultural resources, economic development and housing.
Several hundred meetings and workshops have already been held around the city, and more are planned this week – in Spanish – to gather comments from citizens and other government agencies, Lubar said.
The document is scheduled to have its first vote before the City Council on March 6. If adopted, it will go through the review/approval process by Bernalillo County commissioners.
The city is also rewriting a sister document, the “integrated development ordinance,” which gets into the nitty-gritty of planning and governs land uses, building heights, parking requirements and zoning. It also encourages developers to meet with neighbors who might be affected by their proposed projects.
The city’s Environmental Planning Commission will first consider the development ordinance on April 6, with several hearings envisioned before the commission makes its recommendations to the City Council.
Afterward, technical subcommittees will revise development process manual chapters over the next year.