October 1, 2008

Board OKs Canyon Ranch

By Kiera Hay Journal Staff Writer

Santa Fe Canyon Ranch is a go.

A master plan for the controversial development, which has drawn vocal opposition from many area residents, was approved Tuesday by the Santa Fe County Commission in a tight, 3-2 vote.

"I just really feel it was the right decision. Now we move forward," developer David Schutz said, while partner Jim Borrego called the outcome "a relief."

Opponents, meanwhile, are contemplating their options.

Commissioner Harry Montoya, on speakerphone from Rome, voted in favor of the project, as did Commissioners Mike Anaya and Virginia Vigil. Commissioners Jack Sullivan and Paul Campos voted against it.

"The developers did follow the community plan that was put in place in La Cienega. These developers have jumped through all the hoops and even more than other developers," Anaya said.

Under the conceptual plan approved Tuesday, the 1,316-acre Santa Fe Canyon Ranch -- part of what was once the La Bajada Ranch -- will consist of 174 residences on lots ranging in size from about one- third of an acre to 214 acres. Most of the homes will be clustered within 400 acres.

Overall, the development will be built in three stages. The first stage, which developers said will take about 15 years to complete, will have 80 residences -- 23 of them sold under affordable housing guidelines -- spread over 200 acres. A preliminary development plan for that is still at least eight or nine months down the road, Borrego said.

Following Tuesday's vote, La Cienega Valley Association president Carl Dickens said the area's residents, many of whom have opposed the project ever since developers first proposed putting 600 homes on the land a few years ago, will meet soon to discuss their next step.

"We're going to look at every avenue and option we have," Dickens said.

Residents aren't opposed to development on the property, he said, but, "we don't agree with the 174 homes. We believe they have water rights for somewhere between 60 to 80 homes, and that's what they should do."

Sullivan, in voting against the project, said he worried that Santa Fe Canyon Ranch would eventually come back to the County Commission seeking permission to put more homes on the acreage.

"I just feel the issue here is that we still don't have a master plan that's truly a master plan," he said.

Campos said he felt he development was "really going to create a growth area in a very bad way."

Earlier in the meeting, a proposal by Vigil to provide Santa Fe Canyon Ranch with county water services fell flat after other commissioners expressed reservations.

"I don't think the county should make this big a commitment without some equally substantive (commitment) from developers," Sullivan said.

Developers responded in the negative when asked by the County Commission whether they would agree to limit the number of homes in Santa Fe Canyon Ranch to 174 in exchange for county water services.

Santa Fe Canyon Ranch attorney Rosanna Vasquez said the group considered itself capped at the 174 units approved under the master plan, but, "we are not, at the present time, willing to waive our rights under the county code to come in for an amendment to the master plan" to add more homes.

After the meeting, Borrego noted that the County Commission has twice denied requests by Santa Fe Canyon Ranch for county water services. But, he added, "It is smart policy to connect us on to public water and we wish to continue the discussion further at a later time."

Developers have said they have enough water for the first phase of development, which requires about 14.6 acrefeet a year. Applications for return flow credits -- which would fulfill Santa Fe Canyon Ranch's remaining water needs -- are pending with the Office of the State Engineer. All together, the development is expected to need 32.23 acrefeet of water a year.

Tuesday's decision was made after commissioners tabled a vote on the project earlier this month.

Commissioners heard nearly three hours of testimony at that meeting, but delayed a vote in part because of a lawsuit filed by La Cienega resident Christine Boradiansky, who contended that she had injuries that made it difficult for her to attend a long, late- night meeting and that she should be accommodated under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Boradiansky attended Tuesday's meeting, speaking for about 20 minutes against the development.

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