On October 18, Mayor Tim Keller declared that the city is in need of between 13,000 and 33,000 housing units to address the city’s short supply of housing and that upwards of 40 new people move into the Albuquerque area every day who are in need of housing, Mayor Tim Keller announced his “Housing Forward Abq” plan. According to Keller, the city needs to work in close conjunction with the city’s residential and commercial real estate developers to solve the city’s housing shortage crisis.
Keller said the goal of his Housing Forward ABQ plan is for the city to bring 5,000 new housing units to the city by 2025. He is proposing to do so mostly through the redevelopment of hotels, or conversions to permanent housing, and changing zoning codes to allow for the development of “casitas”.
AMENDING THE INTEGRATED DEVELOPMENT ORDINANCE
On November 10, the Keller Administration released what Mayor Keller called “transformative” updates to Albuquerque’s Integrated Development Ordinance (IDO) to carry out Keller’s “Housing Forward ABQ”. At Mayor Keller’s request, the legislation is being sponsored by Democrat Isaac Benton, a retired architect, and Republican Trudy Jones, a retired realtor. The bill states the main goal is to lower the cost of construction, thus increasing the supply of multi-family dwellings. The ultimate goal is to increase the city’s housing stock with Integrated Development Ordinance (IDO) amendments enabling greater density. The proposed legislation has already been introduced at city council and it was referred to the Environmental Planning Commission (EPC) for hearings and to make recommendations to the City Council on the changes
Mayor Keller’s “Housing Forward ABQ” involves six major amendments to Albuquerque’s Integrated Development Ordinance which is the City’s Zoning laws. The amendments include:
1) Allow two family dwellings/duplexes in R-1/residential zones, permissively, without a public hearing, citywide.
2) Allow Accessory Dwelling units (ADUs)/casitas with kitchens in all R-1 residential zones, permissively citywide.
3) Exempt office/hotels that convert to multifamily apartments from having to put in a full kitchen.
4) Eliminate building height limits in R-ML and MX(mixed use zones). This would affect much of the west side, as well as the rest of the City.
5) Exempt affordable housing from parking requirements.
6) Reduce parking requirements for multi-family/apartments by 75 %.
The first 2 will allow more, limited developments in areas currently zoned for single-family homes. Keller wants to open up those areas to multi-family units like duplexes and make it easier for homeowners to build guest housing called “casitas”.
The third proposal will simplify plans to convert hotels into affordable housing. It would loosen restrictions that require each unit to have a stove or oven inside, and city planners said there’s a market for that.
The fourth proposal would get rid of building height restrictions for multi-family developments. The final two proposals would reduce or eliminate street parking requirements for multi-family and affordable housing developments.
The fifth and Sixth loosen and reduce parking restrictions at affordable housing and apartment complexes.
“CASITAS” TO INCREASE DENSITY
The proposed legislation will dramatically increase options in “R-1” residential zones. “R-1”zoning is single family home lot zoning. Upwards of 68% of all residential property zoned in the city is zoned R-1 encompassing 23% of the city’s total geographic area. The proposed legislation will allow detached “casitas” up to 750 feet and duplexes on lots in the zone. This amendment will impact areas zoned for single-family homes by allowing duplexes and “casitas” accessory dwelling units on lots with sufficient available space.
Right now, the only R-1 properties, or single-family home lots, allowed to build a casita, are downtown and along parts of Central meeting the proper requirements. This proposal would expand that to much of Albuquerque. Maya Sutton, the President of the Inez Neighborhood Association near Pennsylvania and India School, is against a proposed bill that would allow more people in Albuquerque to build a casita on their property. Sutton had this to say:
“How would people have access? We all have high walls and closed lock gates. We’d have to open those and have people come into the backyards, and what would their address be? How would they get mail and packages? How would police and fire service them if there was an emergency?”
According to Planning Department official Mikaela Renz-Whitmore, the new amendments to the IDO will not override existing special “casita” rules and zoning regulations already in place in areas such as Barelas, High Desert and South Broadway. Development anywhere in the R-1 zone remains subject to rules about yard size and setbacks. According to the legislation, it could potentially triple density on the lots and address the zone’s inherent “exclusionary effects.”
EASING RESTRICTIONS FOR DEVELOPERS ON CONVERSIONS
This zoning change will make it easier to convert commercial office space into residential dwellings and in particular efficiency apartments or loft apartments with no bedrooms and a single combined living, cooking and sleeping area. Developers converting non-residential buildings to multi-family housing would not have to meet the existing kitchen standard of having a cooking stove, range or oven in each unit. They would only have to provide a microwave, hotplate or warming device. The bill seeks to extend the existing exemption that currently applies only to city-funded projects to developers to replace the standard kitchen oven or stove with a microwave or hot plate when turning hotels or other commercial buildings into permanent housing.
ELIMINATING HEIGHT RESTRICTIONS
The bill a relaxes rules for apartment development and eliminates height limits for mixed-use development and for multi-family housing such as apartments in the highest-density residential zone. Currently, height limits in those areas vary. In the high-density residential zone today, caps range from 48 to 65 feet, though certain types of projects earn bonuses that raise the limit to 77 feet. In mixed-use zones, present limits range from 30 to 75 feet, though they could reach 111 feet with structured parking and other project bonuses.
CHANGING PARKING REQUIREMENTS
The bill will change parking requirements. It will exempt projects where at least 20% of the residential units will be affordable housing from providing off-street parking and reduces current requirements for other multi-family and mixed-use developments by 75%. Under existing zoning requirements, a multi-family development needs 1-1.8 off-street parking spaces per dwelling unit generally based on the number of bedrooms per apartment.
Mayor Keller’s “Housing Forward ABQ” places great emphasis on “motel conversions”. “Motel conversions” includes affordable housing where the City’s Family & Community Services Department would acquire and renovate motels to develop low-income affordable housing options. The existing layout of the motels makes it cost-prohibitive to renovate them into living units with full sized kitchens. An Integrated Development Ordinance amendment will provide an exemption for affordable housing projects funded by the city, allowing kitchens to be small, without full-sized ovens and refrigerators. It will require city social services to regularly assist residents. The homeless or the near homeless would be offered the housing.
“SAFE OUTDOOR SPACES”
Mayor Keller has advocated and in full support of the amendment to the IDO that allows for the land use known as “Safe Outdoor Spaces” to deal with the homeless crisis. “Safe Outdoor Spaces” are city sanctioned homeless encampments located in open space areas that will allow upwards of 50 homeless people to camp, require hand washing stations, toilets and showers, require a management plan, 6-foot fencing and provide for social services.
Under an adopted amendment to the IDO, Safe Outdoor Spaces are allowed in some non-residential and mixed-use zones and must be at least 330 feet from zones with low-density residential development. The restrictions do not apply to campsites operated by religious institutions. Under the IDO amendments, Safe Outdoor Spaces are allowed for up to two years with a possible two-year extension.
On September 15, the Environmental Planning Commission (EPC) voted to repeal “Safe Outdoor Spaces” from the Integrated Development Ordinance (IDO) by deleting all references of “Safe Outdoor Spaces” effectively outlawing the conditional land use anywhere in the city.
On December 5, the City Council voted on a 5-4 to remove all references to Safe Outdoor Spaces within Albuquerque’s zoning code thereby outlawing the land use. Mayor Tim Keller vetoed the legislation. It was the councils third attempt to reverse its own decision in June to allow Safe Outdoor Spaces with one vote defunding them.
On January 4, the city council attempted to “override” Keller’s veto, but failed to secure the necessary 6 votes.
MAYOR KELLER AND SPONSORING CITY COUNCILORS OUTLINE POSITIONS
In requesting the sponsorship of the legislation, Keller wrote in an October 28 memo to City Council President Isaac Benton:
“The proposed changes are intended to be transformative, which is fitting for the crisis facing our local government, thousands of families in our community, and our housing partners.”
Democrat City Councilor Isaac Benton said the proposed changes, especially the residential zone changes, will result in public outcry and objections. Notwithstanding the public’s anticipated objections, Benton said the housing shortages the city is experiencing demands the changes be made and the public will have ample opportunity to comment. Benton said this:
“These are things that have been discussed over the years with regard to housing affordability, so it’s not new. … A lot of cities are doing this — just really taking a look at their low-density zoning and seeing if there are any opportunities there for more density.”
Republican City Councilor Trudy Jones, a cosponsor of the changes to the IDO, said she fully expects the proposals to generate backlash. Notwithstanding, Jones said the city needs to set the stage for more housing development and density in certain places or risk losing new workers and younger generations. Jones said density will promote housing affordability and the city may not want “sprawl” but it should welcome growth and she said this:
“Some of us want to keep our families here, want to keep our children and grandchildren here. … We can’t stay the little town that we were forever.”
The link to quoted news sources is here
ENVIRONMENTAL PLANNING COMMISSION HEARING
On December 8, the Environmental Planning Commission (EPC) held a hearing on the on the proposed amendments to the Integrated Development Ordinance written by the Keller Administration and co-sponsored by City Councilors Isaac Benton and Trudy Jones. The EPC in an appointed citizen committee of 9 tasked with making a recommendation to the City Council on all land use and zoning matters. The hearing lasted for 5 hours where the general public were given an opportunity voice their support and opposition to the legislation.
Real estate professionals, academics, people who work with low-income and homeless populations voiced support for Mayor Tim Keller’s proposal that will dramatically change the city’s zoning code and neighborhoods. Those who spoke in favor of the zoning amendments said the amendments were a way to reduce barriers to new housing. One relator said recent housing cost increases have priced some of her clients out of the market. The head of the nonprofit Albuquerque Housing Authority spoke in favor of the zoning changes said the housing shortage is resulting in taking months for people to find a place to use a rental-assistance vouchers.
The zoning change that drew the most attention involved “casitas” which are standalone structures of up to 750 feet that would be allowed to contracted on existing residential property. “Casitas” are currently only allowed in certain areas, as a way to foster multigenerational living, more diversity in established neighborhoods and extra income for residents who may otherwise struggle to afford home ownership.
The proposed zoning changes also drew strong backlash and sharp criticism . In particular, homeowners argued the changes deserved far more scrutiny and expressed fears they would alter neighborhood character, block views and increase the number of cars parked on the street. Several people affiliated with neighborhood associations and coalitions raised concerns, saying they did not know about the significant proposal until reading it in the Albuquerque Journal. They complained that the public has had little opportunity for comment and said it could detrimentally impact existing homeowners, who needed to be considered.
The EPC voted to delay any action until its January 19 meeting. The panel discussed several minor changes but made no final decision. Only councilors can change the bill itself. Once the EPC votes and proposes changes to the legislation, it will be referred to the City Council’s Land Use Planning and Zoning Committee which will in turn for on it and then and then refer it to the full city council for a final vote.
REVISTING THE INTEGRATED DEVELOPMENT ORDINANCE
It was in 2015 that former Mayor Richard Berry during his second term started the rewrite process of the city’s comprehensive zoning code and comprehensive plan to rewrite the city’s entire zoning code. It was initially referred to as the ABC-Z comprehensive plan and later renamed the Integrated Development Ordinance (ID0) once it was passed. In 2015, there were sixty (60) sector development plans which governed new development in specific neighborhoods. Forty (40) of the development plans had their own “distinct zoning guidelines” that were designed to protect many historical areas of the city.
Former Mayor Richard Berry said the adoption of comprehensive plan was a much-needed rewrite of a patchwork of decades-old development guidelines that held the city back from development and improvement. The enactment of the comprehensive plan was a major priority of Berry before he left office on December 1, 2017. The Greater Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce and the construction and development community, including the National Association of Industrial and Office Parks (NAIOP), pulled all stops to get the plan adopted before the October 3, 2017 municipal election. IDO was enacted with the support of Democrats and Republicans on the City Council despite opposition from the neighborhood interests and associations.
The stated mission of the re write of the comprehensive plan was to bring “clarity and predictability” to the development regulations and to attract more “private sector investment”. The city’s web site on the plan rewrite claimed the key goals include “improve protection for the city’s established neighborhoods and respond to longstanding water and traffic challenges by promoting more sustainable development”. Economic development and job creation was argued as a benefit to rewriting the Comprehensive Plan.
Under the enacted Integrated Development Ordinance (IDO) the number of zones went from 250 to fewer than 20, which by any measure was dramatic. Using the words “promoting more sustainable development” means developers want to get their hands-on older neighborhoods and develop them as they see fit with little or no regulation at the lowest possible cost to make a profit. The IDO also granted wide range authority to the Planning Department to review and unilaterally approve development applications without public input.
The enacted Integrated Development Ordinance has provisions to allow the City Council to adopt major amendments and make major changes to it. The IDO blatantly removes the public from the development review process, and it was the Planning Department’s clear intent to do so when it drafted the IDO.
COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS
It should come as absolutely no surprise to anyone, especially established neighborhood associations for historic areas of the city like Barelas and the South Broadway and Martineztown area, that Democrat Isaac Benton and Republican Trudy Jones are carrying the water for Keller and are the sponsors of Keller’s Housing Forward ABQ plan legislation amending the IDO. Both city councilors had a distain for the previous comprehensive zoning code that was replaced by the IDO. Both voted for the enactment of the IDO in 2017. Both Benton and Jones have voted for and are in support of “motel conversions” and “Safe Outdoor Spaces”.
Democrat Benton is a retired architect and Republican Jones is a retired real estate agent and both have contempt for many of the sector development plans that placed limitations on developers, especially in historical areas of the city.
Benton for years has advocated for major changes to ease up on restrictions on secondary dwelling unit in backyards over the objections of his own progressive constituents and the historical areas of the city he represents. Benton admitted it when he said this:
“We’ve had these arguments over the years with some of my most progressive neighborhoods that don’t even want to have a secondary dwelling unit be allowed in their backyard or back on the alley. … You know, we’ve got to change that discussion. We have to open up for our neighbors, of all walks of life, to be able to live and work here.”
Republican Jones throughout her 16 years on the city council has always been considered in the pockets of the real estate and the development communities over the interests of property owners and neighborhoods. Over the years, she has received literally thousands of dollars in contributions from both the real estate industry and the development industry each time she has run for city council. She has never gone the “public finance” route and has always privately financed her city council campaigns. She was also the sponsor of the amendment to the IDO that removed the mandatory requirement for public input for special uses giving more authority to the planning department.
KELLER CATERING TO DEVELOPERS
The IDO was enacted a mere few weeks before Tim Keller was elected Mayor the first time in 2017. When then New Mexico Auditor Tim Keller was running for Mayor he had nothing to say publicly about the IDO and gave no position on it. He did proclaim he was the most uniquely qualified to be Mayor despite lacking any experience in municipal affairs and city zoning matters. The likely reason for not taking a position on the IDO was his sure ignorance of municipal land use planning and zoning matters, something he was never exposed to in his career as a State Senator and State Auditor.
Five years later, Keller as if he has had an some sort of epiphany and education, proclaims the IDO is outdated. It’s very difficult, if not outright laughable, to take Mayor Tim Keller serious when he proclaimed the city’s Integrated Development Ordinance (IDO), which lays out highly complicated zoning and subdivision regulations, as being outdated given that it was enacted in 2017 by the city council on an 8-1 vote.
What is really happening with Mayor Tim Keller’s “transformative changes” to the Integrated Development Ordinance and his “Housing Forward Abq” plan is that Keller is catering to the development community as he pretends to be an expert in the field of housing development and zoning matters. Keller is relying on the city’s housing crisis and homeless crisis to seek further changes to the city’s zoning code to help the development community and using city funding to do it.
IDO IS AN ABOMINATION THAT SHOULD BE REPEALED
Simply put, the IDO is and has always been an abomination that favors developers and the city’s construction industry. The 2017 rewrite was a rush job. It took a mere 2 years to rewrite the entire zoning code and it emerged as the Integrated Development Ordinance (IDO). It was in late 2017, just a few weeks before the municipal election and the election of Mayor Tim Keller, that the City Council rushed to vote for the final adoption of the IDO comprehensive plan on an 8-1 vote. Outgoing City Councilor Republican Dan Lewis who lost the race for Mayor Tim Keller voted on the IDO refusing to allow the new council take up the IDO.
Critics of the Integrated Development Ordinance said it lacked public discussion and representation from a number of minority voices and minority communities. They argued that the IDO should be adopted after the 2017 municipal election, but they were ignored by the City Council.
There is no doubt that IDO is now having a long-term impact on the cities older neighborhoods and favors developers. The intent from day one of the Integrated Development Ordinance was the “gutting” of long-standing sector development plans by the development community to repeal those sector development plans designed to protect neighborhoods and their character. The critics of the IDO argued that it made “gentrification” city policy giving developers free reign to do what they wanted and to do it without sufficient oversight.
The City’s development community got all it wanted when the IDO was first enacted which was to gut as many sector development plans as possible and remove zoning restrictions that protected neighborhoods. The enacted Integrated Development Ordinance has provisions to allow the City Council to adopt major amendments and make major changes to it. The IDO blatantly removes the public from the development review process, and it was the Planning Department’s clear intent to do so when it drafted the IDO.
Since the enactment of the Integrated Development Ordinance, at least 250 amendments have been past by the City Council. Now that the development community has gotten what it wants, we have a Mayor and at least 2 city councilors who think they can salvage the unworkable Integrated Development Ordinance (IDO) by amending it repeatedly when repeal is likely in order with the reinstatement of those select sector development plans that were designed to protect the historical character of neighborhoods.
At a bare minimum, the public should tell city councilors to oppose “CASITAS”, “Motel Conversions” and “Safe Outdoor Spaces” and denounce them for the zoning abominations that they are which is a threat to established neighborhoods and historical areas of the city. The public can email Mayor Keller, Planning Department Officials and City Councilors at the following email addresses
MAYOR TIM KELLER
firstname.lastname@example.org (Alan Varela, Director of Planning)
CITY COUNCIL EMAILS