September 10, 2008

SF Ranch Proposal Tabled

By Kiera Hay Journal Staff Writer

The jury's still out on Santa Fe Canyon Ranch.

After listening to nearly three hours of testimony Tuesday night, the Santa Fe County Commission voted to table a proposed master plan on the controversial La Cienega development.

The full chamber included dozens of people on both sides of the debate, including residents, lawyers and even a few former county commissioners.

The turnout was hardly surprising. The plans to build a community of homes on the 1,316-acre property, part of what was once the La Bajada Ranch, have roiled La Cienega ever since developers first proposed putting 600 homes on the land a few years ago.

That's since been scaled back to 174 homes, to be built in three phases over 15 to 20 years. According to developers, who include former Santa Fe mayoral candidate David Schutz and builder Jim Borrego, 80 houses would be constructed in the first phase, with the first owners arriving in 2011.

A few hundred acres would be set aside for public space.

The commission tabled the matter without voting at least partly in response to a lawsuit that had been filed by Christina Boradiansky. The La Cienega woman contended she had brain and spinal injuries that made it difficult for her to attend a long, late- night meeting and that, under the Americans with Disabilities Act, the commission had to accommodate her.

"Her function is best in the morning, then declines steadily as the afternoon goes on," states the complaint filed in federal court Monday. "She has little ability to verbally or mentally function well at night."

U.S. District Judge M. Christina Armijo denied Boradiansky's request for a temporary injunction against the hearing itself, but suggested options if she was not able to participate. Commissioners ultimately decided to provide Boradiansky with a copy of the Tuesday hearing's minutes and give her a chance to respond before the governing body takes the matter up again at its Sept. 30 meeting.

The Santa Fe Canyon Ranch residential development abuts Borad ia nsky's proper ty, where she has lived for 28 years, according to her complaint. She is worried that the development will bring light, noise and traffic to the rural community.

Those concerns were echoed by many of those present Tuesday night. The desire to preserve La Cienega's "rural character" was the clear overarching theme.

"Sticking a development of this magnitude and size into a community with this much resistance can only be disastrous," said John Paul Gonzales, a lifelong La Cienega resident. He later added, "I urge you to please consider the spirit of our community plan before you make any decisions."

Specific concerns ran the gamut from the protection of the site's dozens of archeological sites to fears that a traffic impact study for the proposed development was inadequate. A feature of the master plan that would cluster the vast majority of homes on a few hundred acres -- a way of providing more open space, according to developers -- drew the ire of residents.

"Our ordinance was about clustering to preserve agricultural use, not meant to address developments of this size," said La Cienega resident Tom Dixon.

Water was also a source of concern.

The County Commission has twice denied a request by Santa Fe Canyon Ranch for county water services, and the development has only secured enough water for the first phase of its development. Applications for return flow credits -- which would fill the rest of the development's water needs -- are pending with the Office of the State Engineer, developers said.

La Cienega Valley Association president Carl Dickens asked commissioners to deny or table the master plan until all residents' concerns had been addressed.

But Santa Fe Canyon Ranch also had its fair share of supporters on hand Tuesday night. Though only a handful of individuals actually spoke in favor of the development, several more stood up during an informal show of support requested by developers.

"This is an opportunity for both sides to get together to work out a compromise before having to go to arbitration," said Kurt Young, a La Cienega property owner with land adjacent to Santa Fe Canyon Ranch.

Young said he'd previously been opposed to the project due to its original size, but appreciated the efforts of developers to work with area residents on their concerns. And, he told the Journal after the hearing, "if they went to arbitrate this in court, the neighbors (would) probably end up with an unfavorable solution."

Others pointed out the boon of Santa Fe Canyon Ranch's 45 affordable houses. Bob Martinez, a realtor, said he had three daughters living in Albuquerque who he wanted "to be able to come back" to Santa Fe.

Journal staff writer Raam Wong

contributed to this report.

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