On July 12, 2019, a guest editorial column was publish by the Albuquerque Journal written by Dr. Joe L. Valles, President, Grande Heights Neighborhood Association. The column dealt with the city’s zoning comprehensive plan originally known as the ABC-Z plan , and also known as the Integrated Development Ordinance (IDO).
Following is the guest editorial in full, with a link to the Albuquerque Journal followed by additional Commentary and Analysis:
“There’s widespread disappointment and frustration with the Planning Department’s ongoing actions regarding the Integrated Development Ordinance (IDO). The IDO promise was “to ensure a high-quality built environment for nearby property owners and neighbors.” Without a vision for Albuquerque, however, unenforced and arbitrary rules in the IDO neither create new design nor ensure a high-quality built environment, and planners aren’t asking for it.
The apartment monstrosities built in the near North Valley – one right next to St. Therese Church – are resultant examples of what the IDO, under planners’ interpretation, wrongfully allows. Planners can’t explain away these IDO-based approvals. Instead, they’re soaked in language they created and inflexibly defend as they continue to promote the minimum standards for development. If the IDO correctly allowed these developments – and if the IDO can’t meaningfully protect sensitive lands, signature open spaces and valuable cultural assets – for those reasons alone the IDO is seriously flawed.
The Planning Department also has a problem with strict adherence to state statute; if not de-facto violations of the law, then due-process breaches and potential violations of the Open Meetings Act ignore its spirit. The Development Review Board (DRB) was granted gratuitous discretionary power by the IDO to hold hearings and grant variances without the requisite conformity to strict standards. The Land-Use Hearing Officer (LUHO) warned planners about potential problems in courts.
Obviously, the City Council heard, because just recently councilors unanimously passed R-19-150. This resolution sponsored by Councilor Trudy Jones allows the DRB to further circumvent strict state statute requirements. “To hold public hearings”‘ was changed to “hold meetings” and “variance” was replaced with “waiver.” These changes further diminish the process and discredit policy making. It’s policy change without public engagement favoring one sole stakeholder – the development community. If these are the kinds of “fixes” we’re going to get, then we’re stooping to a new low.
The IDO blatantly removes the public from the development review process, and it was the planners’ clear intent to do so. Telling are 2013-14 inter-office planning memos: “Keep neighborhoods under control … Rebalancing Neighborhood Association input into the process … need to either remove from (the) process or give them a charge … growth no matter what … eliminating sector plans …” The flaw is that against written promises, coupled with planners’ open advocacy on behalf of commercial development interests, they created an unbalanced domination by the one stakeholder. Rather than standing as honest brokers, planners continue in their staff reports and testimony to present the most favorable cases for certain developers or their agents with apparent imbedded undue influence within the city.
Although initially touted as a badly needed document to clean-up conflicting zoning regulations, planning staff now has identified over 500 “fixes” needed to amend the IDO. Astute neighborhood people have also identified numerous essential amendments. It’s what happens to a document that’s constructed “in a fairly strict timeline in order to complete this monumental project during the remainder of the Mayor’s term and we need to get this RFP out by early June in order to accomplish that.” Thus, in a special meeting, City Council passed the IDO on the eve of the mayoral election. The clear aim was to get Mayor (Richard) Berry to sign it before Mayor Keller took office. Six of 9 councilors, city planners and supporters of the IDO gave in to the development industry, wiped out publicly supported sector plans and left resident landowners hanging.
Property owners wanted to keep their sector plans – their sense of place. IDO form-based zones were created to set the forms of buildings and allow development to proceed more quickly without public hearings, something easier done in an urban environment like Downtown. The flaw? Without visionary planning you can’t reasonably attempt to create “downtown environments” citywide. After all, a key objective of this effort was “to develop zoning that protects neighborhoods while encouraging the revitalization of commercial areas.” Where are those neighborhood protections?”
You can review the guest editorial article at the below link:
GENTRIFICATION MEANS DISPLACEMENT
The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines “gentrification” as:
“the process of repairing and rebuilding homes and businesses in a deteriorating area , such as an urban neighborhood, accompanied by an influx of middle-class or affluent people and that often results in the displacement of earlier, usually poorer residents. …”
“Gentrification” essentially involves a significant demographic shift of an increase in the number of affluent residents in a neighborhood and a decrease in the number of poorer residents. As summed-up by the Centers for Disease Control: “Gentrification is often defined as the transformation of neighborhoods from low value to high value.”
Gentrification by another name means “displacement.”
COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS
To answer the last question posed by Dr. Joe L. Valles, “Where are those neighborhood protections?”, there simply are none, and do not expect any. IDO blatantly removes the public from the development review process. Elimination of neighborhood protections is what IDO was all about from the very beginning. What is interesting is that Dr. Joe L. Valles seems to avoid any and all discussion of the term “gentrification”, which is also what the new comprehensive plan was all about.
Mayor Tim Keller has been absolutely silent regarding passage R-19-150 sponsored by City Councilor Trudy Jones allowing the DRB to further circumvent strict state statute requirements. Why? As accurately pointed out by Dr. Valles in his letter, the fixes or “changes [to Integrated Development Ordinance ] further diminish the process and discredit policy making. It’s policy change without public engagement favoring one sole stakeholder – the development community.”
It should not come as any surprise to anyone that Mayor Tim Keller has remained silent. He refused to take any position on IDO when he was running for Mayor. Besides, Keller is known for his own self-promotion and ONE ABQ slogan. Zoning issues tend to be very boring and difficult to integrate into slogans, unless of course it’s your own historical neighborhood that is being affected by developers. Perhaps Keller should change his slogan “ONE ABQ” to “ONE ABQ, ONE DEVELOPMENT”.
ENACTMENT OF THE OF ABC-Z PLAN ALSO KNOWN AS INTEGRATED DEVELOPMENT ORDINANCE (IDO).
Former Mayor Richard Berry who started the rewrite process during his second term 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 rewrite of the comprehensive plan took a mere two years that started in 2015. Back in 2017, 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.
On February 20, 2017 it was reported on the City web site that the re write of the comprehensive plan was an attempt 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 also 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.
Suzanne Lubar, the City Planning Department Director at the time, claimed that updating the comprehensive plan was necessary to keep up with growth trends because Bernalillo County’s population of 680,000 is expected to grow by 300,000 by 2040. City planners argued that with the rewrite of the comprehensive plan, it would be able to administer and enforce the city’s zoning system consistently.
(See Albuquerque Journal “City trying to weed out redundant regulations” at: https://www.abqjournal.com/953175/city-working-to-weed-out-redundant-regulations.html)
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 best possible cost to make a profit.
Critics of the plan said during the drafting of ABC-Z comprehensive plan that public discussion lacked representation from a number of minority voices and minority communities. The critics argued the final approved document would allow the continued location of polluting industries in predominantly minority neighborhoods. The accusation was made that the new comprehensive plan was racist. (See Albuquerque Free Press article “New ABQ Urban Plan Racist”, March 3, 2017.)
The enactment of the comprehensive plan was a major priority of former Republican Mayor Richard Berry before he left office. The development community pushed hard for its enactment before Berry left office and the City Council went along with it. IDO was enacted with the support of Democrats and Republicans on the City Council despite opposition from the neighborhood interests and associations.
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, no doubt to support of Mayor Richard Berry. It is no secret that Berry, a construction contractor and developer himself, was the all-time darling of the construction and development community, the Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce and organizations such as NAIOP because he did their political bidding.
One of the most nefarious votes by the Albuquerque City Council in late 2017 was the rush to vote for the final adoption of the ABC-Z or IDO comprehensive plan before the municipal election and the election of a new Mayor. Many neighborhood associations had requested the City Council to delay its enactment until after the 2017 Mayors race and the City Council ignored the request. Despite being encouraged to do so, not one single candidate running for Mayor in 2017 weighed in on opposing the IDO, including now Mayor Tim Keller. No doubt all the candidates wanted the issue to just go away. By not taking any position on IDO, they all refused to show any backbone against developers.
THEY CAN RUN BUT CANNOT HIDE FROM THEIR VOTING RECORD
The two City Council District’s the new Integrated Development Ordinance (IDO) will have a major impact on are:
1) City Council District 2, represented by long time City Councilor Isaac Benton, a retired architect and
2) City Council District 6, represented by first term City Councilor Pat Davis.
Both Isaac Benton and Pat Davis are running for another term on the City Council.
Both Benton and Davis voted for the IDO and against the best interest of the neighborhoods they represent. Benton and Davis refused to intervene and make sure the IDO would not destroy the character of historical areas of the city in their districts.
As a retired architect, Benton knew what the full impact of IDO would be on neighborhoods but decided to supported the development community. Pat Davis on the other hand has not lived in the City long enough to understand city neighborhoods and their historical character. Pat Davis is basically inept and generally incompetent as you can get when it comes to zoning issues.
Councilors Isaac Benton, Pat Davis and Trudy Jones could not careless about preserving historical neighborhoods or areas of the city including historic Route 66. All 3 voted repeatedly for and the disastrous ART Bus project that has destroyed the character of Route 66. All 3 refused to advocate to put the ART Bus project on the ballot for public approval.
The ART Bus project has been a total disaster resulting the destruction of the character of Route 66. ART construction had such a negative impact on Central that it resulted in several businesses going out of business. Many central businesses and Nob Hill businesses, no longer exist because of the ART Bus Project.
District 2 incumbent City Councilor Isaac Benton has 6 opponents seeking to replace him. The candidates are: Steve Baca (D), David B. Bearshire, Joseph Griego (D), Robert Raymond Blanquera Nelson (D), Zack Quintero, (D) and Connie Vigil, (I). 6 of 7 candidates in District 2 originally sought public financing and 4 have qualified: Benton, Griego, Nelson and Quintero. Anyone of these candidates would better represent District 2 than Benton.
District 6, incumbent City Councilor Pat Davis has one challenger and she is Gina Naomi Dennis (D) who is an attorney, neighborhood activists and who was a Bernie Sanders delegate in 2016 to the Democratic National Convention. Both Davis and Dennis qualified for public finance.
District 8 Republican City Councilor Trudy Jones is also running for another term on the city council. Trudy Jone’s support and action on IDO should come as no surprise. Trudy Jones is in the real estate industry and has always promoted the Republican agenda of opposing zoning regulations and has been supported by the Greater Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce and NAIOP repeatedly. Jones has qualified to be on the November ballot, but as usual will private finance her campaign. It is likely Trudy Jones will receive significant financial support from the development community.
District 8 City Councilor Trudy Jones has one challenger and she is S. Maureen Sakowin who has secured the necessary 500 nominating petition signatures to be on the ballot. Sakowin also qualified for public financing by securing the necessary 425 donations of $5 each from registered voters. Sakowin has already received approximately $45,000 in public finance and for that reason one elected to City Council she will not be indebted to the development community.
It is indeed a very, very sad commentary when residents like Dr. Joe L. Valles, President of the Grande Heights Neighborhood Association, are relegated to having write letters to the Albuquerque Journal hoping something will happen when the City Council has essentially forgotten that they represent neighborhoods and past IDO in the first place.
All the candidates running for City Council need to be asked what they feel about gentrification and what they will do to preserve and protect their neighborhoods under IDO and what changes they want to see in the comprehensive plan.
There is no doubt that IDO will have a long-term impact on the cities older neighborhoods and favors developers. The intent from day one of the ABC-Z comprehensive plan 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.
Using words like “promoting more sustainable development” means private developers and development organizations wanting to get their hands-on older neighborhoods and develop them as they see fit with little regulation at the best possible cost to make a profit. The ABC-Z project rewrite was nothing more than making “gentrification” an official city policy especially with IDO blatantly removing the public from the development review process.
City Councilors Pat Davis, Isaac Benton and Trudy Jones need to be thanked for enacting the Integrated Development Ordinance (IDO) as well as the ART Bus project by denying them another term on the city council and voting them off the City Council.
As far as Mayor Tim Keller is concerned, he appears to be far more concerned about preserving the legacy of his predecessor and not preserving historical neighborhoods. Keller has not taken any real position on the Integrated Development Ordinance (IDO), he has not vetoed R-19-150 sponsored by City Councilor Trudy Jones allowing the DRB to further circumvent strict state statute requirements. Mayor Tim Keller is now fully committed to completing the ART Bus project with completion of construction and the order of new buses to the point he can call it his own legacy project.
Mayor Tim Keller appointed David Campbell as the City’s Planning Director replacing Suzanne Lubar and Cambell essentially carried on the policies of the former Republican Mayor, especially when it came to being “pro development”. The Planning Department enforces the Integrated Sector Development Plan. Campbell has resigned as Albuquerque’s Planning Director and was appointed the new Rio Rancho City Manager. Working first for Mayor Louis Saavedra as City Attorney and then appointed Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) under Mayor Richard Berry, Campbell has extensive contacts and shares much of the pro development philosophy with the Economic Forum, the Greater Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce and NAIOP.
On July 12, 2019 Mayor Tim Keller appointed Brennon Williams as the Interim Director of the City of Albuquerque’s Planning Department. Brennon has spent 20 years working in planning, including as a Zoning Enforcement Inspector and as the Deputy Director for Planning at the City of Albuquerque. On September 4, Brennon Williams, was appointed the permanent Planning Director by Mayor Keller. Mr. Williams, given his history with the city and work on the IDO, represents a continuation of the pro-development attitude towards neighborhood associations and the voices of varying communities. Mayor Keller’s appointment of the new Planning Director reveals his lack of commitment to historical neighborhoods and just how pro-development he is towards neighborhood associations and the voices of varying communities.