Supporters of the Santolina Master Plan aren’t just pitching another bedroom community on the outskirts of town.
They say they envision a thriving, self-contained community with its own jobs – 75,000 of them, in fact – on the West Side, an area desperate for employers.
Opponents aren’t convinced. They see a development that would lead to more residential rooftops and an expansion of sprawl on Albuquerque’s fringe.
This argument, centering on the jobs-to-housing balance, is a key to the Santolina debate, and it should all come to a head today.
Bernalillo County commissioners this afternoon are scheduled to consider approval of the Santolina Master Plan and a proposed development agreement.
About 20 percent of the 22 square miles covered by the Santolina Master Plan would be dedicated to business parks and industrial uses. The developer’s goal is to have roughly two jobs for every home at full build-out, which could be 50 years from now.
John P. Salazar, an attorney for property owner Western Albuquerque Land Holdings LLC, said the development team will be motivated to create jobs because so much of the land is designated for that purpose and will sit undeveloped otherwise.
“The wonderful thing about Santolina,” he told county commissioners last month, “is that it’s going to provide jobs and it’s anti-sprawl.”
People could “live, work and play” in one spot, Salazar added.
But some see that as wishful thinking. You can’t just designate land on a map for industrial uses and expect it to happen, said Kelly O’Donnell, an economist initially hired by residents concerned about Santolina who now volunteers her time.
“There’s no reason to believe that developing this piece of land will be any more effective at drawing new money into the community than developing any of the other pieces of land in Bernalillo County,” she said. “This does not offer the community and the county anything different than what we’ve been offered in the past.”
Almost everyone seems to agree that bringing jobs to the West Side is critical to reshaping how the city grows. Adding employers west of the Rio Grande is important because it would reduce stress on river crossings and fight against the dominant commuting pattern, in which people living on the West Side drive east to get to work.
Now, there are about 0.56 jobs per home on the West Side, according to the Mid-Region Council of Governments. East of the river, the ratio is 1.39 jobs per home.
And the Santolina developers are proposing a roughly 2-to-1 ratio in their master plan, or 75,000 jobs for 38,000 homes. It would not be built all at once, of course. Supporters say it would develop as market conditions create demand for growth there over the next 40 to 50 years.
Jim Strozier, a planner for the Santolina development team, said approval of the master plan would help the recruitment of companies to the Albuquerque area.
That’s because, he said, it would provide the zoning needed for an employer and allow the property owners to seek water and sewer service from the local water authority – something they can’t do until a land-use plan is approved by the county.
“It’s a pretty simple equation as to what the site-selection people are looking for,” Strozier said in an interview. “They want a piece of property that meets their requirements and is as ready to go as we can make it.”
Furthermore, the way the master plan outlines a mix of homes, open space and industrial land will make it a more attractive area, Strozier said. Employers want services nearby, he said.
“Otherwise, you might see a lot more factories built out into the middle of nowhere,” Strozier said. “You don’t really see that. They’ve got to have a place for their people to live.”
Each master-planned community in the Albuquerque area has its own strengths and weaknesses, he said, but proximity to Interstate 40 will be a draw for Santolina.
Nathan Perez, a finance and economics consultant for Santolina, said the target of 75,000 jobs is certainly possible but would require cooperation among the county, economic development agencies and Santolina property owners.
“It is not conservative,” he said of the number, “but it’s not overly aggressive.”
‘Pie in the sky’
Opponents are skeptical. O’Donnell calls the idea of 75,000 jobs “pretty pie in the sky.”
Fred Mondragon, an international trade specialist and former state economic development secretary, said young adults want a lifestyle with interesting neighborhoods and without long commutes.
“In my opinion, they’re not going to live in a Santolina. They’re not going to live in a sprawl city,” he said. “My vote would be, I don’t think Santolina will be important in terms of attracting people who will want to work in new communities.”
He and O’Donnell said Mesa del Sol and other master-planned communities already are available if that’s what a newly recruited company is looking for.
“To my mind, there’s a very decent likelihood of a whole lot of houses going up,” O’Donnell said. “There’s no guarantee whatsoever there are going to be jobs.”
Commissioner Debbie O’Malley, who has been critical of Santolina, put it this way in a recent hearing: “It’s a promise of jobs. That’s what you’re selling. There’s no guarantee of jobs.”
The proposed development agreement tries to provide some guarantees, though opponents say it isn’t strong enough.
The agreement would allow the county to refuse to grant residential building permits if Santolina failed to meet certain thresholds for job creation and economic development.
The 2-to-1 ratio of jobs to homes, however, wouldn’t kick in for quite some time. Instead, the requirement would be phased in.
The development would need 300 jobs when it reached its first 2,000 homes. A 1-to-1 ratio would be required at 3,500 homes.
The 2-to-1 ratio would kick in at 34,000 or more homes.
By: Dan McKay (Albuquerque Journal)
Click here to view source article.