July 3, 2008

Panel Denies Project’s Latest Plan


Canyon Ranch developers say they'll ask county to overrule decision

Plan: Many La Cienega residents are against project

The La Cienega Development Review Committee voted 3-2 against approving the Santa Fe Canyon Ranch development's master plan Wednesday night.

After hours of discussion, the committee decided the plan still contained too many unknowns for it to recommend approval to the County Commission.

The latest plans for the south Santa Fe County project, which at one time was slated to have nearly 700 homes on 1,300 acres, call for a development of 174 homes to be built in three phases over 10 to 20 years. Phase 1 would include 80 homes on 200 acres. Phase 2 would include an additional 76 homes on an adjacent 199-acre tract of the property. The final phase would include nine homes on the remaining 912 acres of the property. But the developers want to retain the right to further develop the property in the future, which did not sit well with the some members of the LCDRC.

Developer David Schutz said he and his partners will ask the county commissioners to overrule the LCDRC and approve the plan.

Depending on the source, Santa Fe Canyon Ranch is either a tremendous opportunity for long-term planning of affordable homes or an ill-considered development that will compromise the rural village life of La Cienega. Both viewpoints were heard during Wednesday's meeting at the Community Center in La Cienega, where developers Schutz and Jim Borrego presented their most recent plans.

The developer's agent, Rosanna Vazquez, presented the project as an opportunity for the community to plan the future of a large chunk of land, an opportunity she said communities don't have when homes are built one by one with no eye toward shared infrastructure. "It's overwhelming," Vazquez said. "It's a lot of land. It's a lot of units. It's a lot to think about. But it allows for long-term planning."

Vazquez said the developers have done their best to adhere to the citizen-created community plan for La Cienega.

The development will have no two-story buildings. The development will have 400 acres of open space with trails that connect to existing open space. The development will not allow boundary fences to facilitate wildlife traverse and rural character.

But many La Cienega residents don't want Santa Fe Canyon Ranch to be built.

Critics of the development say it's too big, too urban and will use too much water. They say the land where the project is proposed isn't one of the areas Santa Fe County has identified for growth, and its remote location will make it a consumptive, expensive community, not a "green," affordable one as has been claimed.

The question of water rights continues to plague the development as well. According to county staff, the projected need for the project is 32.32 acre-feet of water per year.

The developers own 29.1 acre feet, of which, under state law, they can only access the "consumptive use" amount of 14.55 acre- feet. They've applied for a 55 percent return-flow credit on that water, which would bring the total available water for the project to 32.32 acre-feet. The return-flow credits would be achieved by treating and releasing the development's wastewater.

But the issue of the return-flow credits has not yet been decided by the Office of the State Engineer.

"They act like they already have the water rights, but it's still under protest, so I don't think this project is ready for approval," said J.J. Gonzales, a longtime La Cienega resident and party to one of several protests filed against the return-flow application.

About 100 people gathered to listen to the details of the new plan, including Gov. Sisto Quintana of neighboring Santo Domingo Pueblo. The pueblo has numerous concerns about the project, including water-rights issues and easement issues. Chief among the pueblo's concerns is that Santa Fe Canyon Ranch won't adequately protect archaeological sites on the property.

More than 20 people spoke during the meeting, many of them under 30 years old, leading Gonzales to speculate the developers had brought friends and family to the meeting. "There are a lot of strangers here," Gonzales said.

Many of the younger people who spoke praised the project for offering upcoming generations a chance to purchase "affordable" housing close to home. Schutz said given the volatile nature of the housing market he couldn't say how much the homes would cost, but they would be priced "below market."

One La Cienega resident, 29-year-old Bill Mollison, said the development was not forward-thinking and did not represent what the community wanted for its future. "This development is not sustainable," he said. "This is not rural. This is last century and not appropriate. These are the wrong developers, and this is the wrong proposal."

Contact Phaedra Haywood at 986-3068 or [email protected]

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