August 11, 2008

Project’s Master Plan Up for Vote


Development previously rejected by review panel

By Phaedra Haywood

The New Mexican

Developers and residents locked in a yearslong battle over the fate of a giant piece of land south of La Cienega could get some closure Tuesday when the Santa Fe County Commission is scheduled to vote on the project's master plan.

The 1,300-acre property in question is what is left of the 5,300- acre La Bajada Ranch after the Thompson family sold the majority of it to Santo Domingo Pueblo.

Former mayoral candidate David Schutz and local developer Jim Borrego want to build Santa Fe Canyon Ranch, a 162 lot residential development, there. Most of the development would be clustered on 400 acres. The partners want to reserve the right to further develop the remaining 900 acres if they can obtain more water rights.

The number of units in the proposed project has changed three times in as many years as Santa Fe Canyon Ranch has tried in vain to satisfy the concerns of the project's plentiful and organized opponents.

Previous master plans

have called for as many as

600 homes on the oddly shaped wedge of land that is bordered by La Cienega, Santo Domingo Pueblo and Interstate 25.

But a shortage of water rights and complaints from community residents have forced repeated downsizing of the project.

The master plan commissioners will consider

was rejected July 2 by the

La Cienega Development Review Committee. But because the LCDRC is only a recommending body, the County Commission could chose to approve the plan.

The county has denied several requests from the developers asking for water to be extended to the project. But Tuesday will be the first time the County Commission has formally considered a master plan for the development.

The current master plan requires 32.32 acre-feet of water.

The Office of the State Engineer is considering an application from the developers to transfer 29.1 acre-feet of irrigation rights to the property. But even if the transfer is granted, state law will allow the developers to pump only the "consumptive use" amount of about 14.5 acre-feet.

Santa Fe Canyon Ranch has also proposed treating the development's wastewater and returning it to Alamo Creek, a perennial stream that runs through the property. The developers asked the state engineer to grant them return flow credits that would allow them to pump 32.32 acre-feet from the wells.

The office is set to consider that request in September. But the application has been challenged by area acequia associations, neighboring land owners and even interested parties on the north side of Santa Fe.

Jim Borrego said in a statement last week that phase one of the three-phase project -- 80 lots on 250 acres -- can go forward without the return flow credits. Santa Fe Canyon Ranch has asked the county to provide about 8 acre-feet of water to service the 45 affordable units that must be included in the project under a county ordinance.

The county has supplied water for the affordable components of other projects, but not ones that aren't connected to its water system.

Members of the La Cienega Valley Association say the development is still too dense. They would prefer it be limited to 80 to 100 homes total as former owner Warren Thompson had agreed to do when the ranch was still a single,

5,300-acre chunk.

Area residents are worried the density of the subdivision will ruin the rural nature of the land, impact springs in the area and bring unwanted urban problems to La Cienega.

The area is not, they point out, one of the areas targeted by Santa Fe County for strategic growth.

The association is circulating a petition opposing approval of the master plan. Santo Domingo Pueblo has also weighed in on the issue expressing concerns about traffic, a road that passes uncomfortably close to a pueblo boundary and the fate of about 50 archaeological sites on the land.

Borrego and Schutz argue they've already met many of the community's concerns and adjusted their plans accordingly.

The developers say they are planning a place where working-class families, particularly children of local residents, will be able to become homeowners. According to a 2005 story in The New Mexican, Bob Borrego, Rick Borrego, Lee Brown and Jim Rutt are also partners in the project, but Jim Borrego didn't answer a written query about who the current partners are.

Borrego in a written statement said last week that residents fighting the project have a general attitude of "anywhere but in my neighborhood." Borrego also confirmed the property is for sale as is with a

$19 million price tag.

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

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