The Santa Fe City Council is scheduled on Sept. 30 to make a final vote on whether or not to adopt a master plan for the city-owned Northwest Quadrant property. The plan in question proposes the development of more than 700 houses, staged over a decade, on property facing the 599 bypass route but within walking distance of downtown. It is designed to have roughly equal parts affordable housing, “workforce” housing and market-rate housing.
The City Council meeting will be packed, contentious and interminably whiny, combining the attributes that have come to typify even non-controversial issues up for consideration. But that needn’t be the case.
What follows is a fantasy version of the meeting, pulled from a fictitious alternate world in which Santa Feans prioritize the health of the whole community, and councilors are united in effective leadership and responsible oversight rather than tallying votes, pleasing individual districts and vengefully thwarting each other.
City Councilor A: Many residents of the Casa Solana neighborhood are concerned about the traffic impact this new development will have on their neighborhood.
Councilor B: This plan addresses those concerns by routing traffic through 599. Only emergency vehicles and school buses will travel through Casa Solana.
Councilor A: But what if a future council decides to open traffic to Casa Solana?
Councilor C: Let’s direct staff to work with a private nonprofit to create a conservation easement that will block traffic in perpetuity.
Councilor A: Problem solved! Let’s move on.
Councilor D: There’s still the issue of sewage being pumped via a lift station and then routed through Casa Solana’s aging sewer lines.
City staff: Although engineers have carefully examined the lines and assured us there’s no problem, we’ve found another option keeping in spirit with the environmentally conscientious focus of the development. We originally thought there wasn’t enough room for a structured wetlands, but by routing sewage under Camino de los Montoyas and along the Arroyo de las Trampas, we can build a wetlands down toward the waste transfer station. It’ll take a land swap, but it will be an innovative national model and the treated effluent can be channeled into the Santa Fe River, increasing its flow and recharging the water table.
Councilor E: Ingenious! Let’s do it. But the city is looking at including a lot of affordable housing and the pro forma doesn’t seem to make sense with today’s economy. We need to rein in our budget, not commit to spending money that we don’t have.
Councilor F: True, but the pro forma is not that far off. In better times, the project could be done with the city contributing land to the effort, but without having to commit additional funds.
Councilor G: The issue before us today is not to fund the plan, but rather to approve it as the plan we want to follow when the economy is right for private development to pay for it. History has shown us that cities coming out of a recession with shovel-ready plans are the cities that thrive in the following prosperity cycles…
Councilor H: …and cities that restrict not only funding but vision are the ones that struggle to keep up with growing economies.
Councilor A: If we approve the plan, we should institute an annual review so we can move on it as soon as possible rather than allowing the plan to languish in the basement with, well, all the other good plans we’ve passed and quickly banished to the “someday” cabinet.
Councilor D: Good idea. It’s time to be proactive. However, I do think the plan falls short in some key areas…
Councilor B: I think I can read your mind, Councilor D. Let’s amend the plan to increase its already impressive use of alternative-energy generation and gray-water harvesting.
Councilor H: We may have to direct staff to lobby the state Legislature to liberalize the water harvesting regulations, and we’ll have to get moving on adopting a municipal solar-financing district.
Councilor C: Done and done. I move to approve with amendments…
Councilor A: Second.
Mayor: I love my job. All in favor?
SFR will be twittering Northwest Quadrant issues from now though the City Council debate. Join the conversation using the hashtag #nwq.