Albuquerque City Councilor Cynthia Borrego was elected in November, 2017 to her first 4 year term to the Albuquerque City Council to represents District 5, the sprawling Northwest part of Albuquerque. Councilor Borrego is the current Vice President of the City Council. Cynthia Borrego retired from the City of Albuquerque after 30 years of public service in the City Planning Department and for that reason she has a working knowledge of the city zoning ordinances.
On October 9, 2019 the Albuquerque Journal published a “guest column” entitled “ABQ Needs to Strike Zoning Balance” written by City Councilor Cynthia Borrego. Following is the column with the link to the article:
“In a perfect world, everyone would live happily as neighbors. However, we can only strive to be a healthy community. The recently adopted Albuquerque Integrated Development Ordinance (IDO) or new zoning was thought to create a “happy” world when adopted. That is until it was time to be implemented, and then the discussion about what was left out began.
So the city Planning Department is beginning a new process of reviewing and recommending to the City Council nearly 500 amendments to the document – 500 amendments a year after adoption?
As a city planner for more than 30 years, I know this situation could have been avoided if the city had slowed down the adoption process and planners had worked a little harder and a little longer to bring more consensus to what was being adopted as the law of the land. In fact, in my first year as a councilor, I proposed O-18-6, Amending The Effective Date of The Integrated Development Ordinance to Add An Additional 12 Months To The Review Period, fully intending to slow the adoption process a bit until the IDO had been … completely vetted. My bill could not get a second at the Land Use, Planning and Zoning Committee (LUPZ) meeting.
So, now, neighborhoods that supported my bill want their sector plans back, as do some elected officials, and developers are upset. …
You see the city did a complete 180-degree turn when it comes to zoning in Albuquerque. As a community we changed from a traditional-based zoning code – originally adopted in 1957 and amended throughout the years – to a form-based code (that is) clearly design based. It was thought that this newly adopted zoning approach would solve all of our community development problems and stimulate growth in the community by eliminating sector development plans, or, as some thought, regulations upon regulations. What is zoning if it’s not meant to be regulatory?
Albuquerque’s sector development plans each community previously cultivated and adopted took years to create. Planners examined each community’s assets to tailor zoning categories designed to preserve community character and each neighborhood’s unique identity. This approach should have been seen as an asset and not a regulatory liability. … What we didn’t anticipate with the new form-based zoning structure is it is simply establishing a similar avenue for generic regulation throughout our communities, thus losing some of Albuquerque’s unique identity and integrity. Ironically the regulations and bureaucracy still exist, in a different format with less constraints on character preservation. Have we struck a balance yet? I argue we have not.
So, where do we go from here? The city has now adopted form-based zoning, and it’s making a lot of people unhappy as the character of our neighborhoods is at stake in the translation. While we all understand that change is inevitable in our communities and regulations are designed to be fluid as plans change, as we move forward as a community it is also essential to remember and begin work to amend our city regulations with the important idea that we must strike a balanced approach.
This allows for development to occur, though not at the stake of losing what attracts us all to Albuquerque in the first place. This balance should pay special attention … to our city’s irreplaceable uniqueness, diversity, history and character in order to showcase her special beauty. It is not an easy task to create regulatory authority agreeable to residents, developers and commercial interests, but it can be accomplished through the practice of balancing the past with the present and our vision for the future.”
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.
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.)
ANALYSIS AND COMMENTARY
Albuquerque City Councilor Cynthia Borrego is absolutely correct when she says IDO has not struck a balance between less constraints on development and neighborhood character preservation reflected in all the sector development plans repealed. In her words “This balance should pay special attention … to our city’s irreplaceable uniqueness, diversity, history and character in order to showcase her special beauty.”
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 Mayor Tim Keller. 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.
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.
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.
As for Mayor Tim Keller, he 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.