On April 12, the Albuquerque City Council Land Use and Zoning Committee held their first meeting on the yearly amendments to the Integrated Development Ordinance (IDO). The committee of 5 consists of conservative Republicans Trudy Jones, Dan Lewis and Renee Grout, and progressive Democrats Isaac Benton, and Tammy Fiebelkorn. Progressive Democrat Council President Pat Davis appointed Fiebelkorn committee chair even though she has been a city councilor a mere 16 months and has very little if any understanding of the city’s zoning laws and land use policy.
Among the more controversial amendments considered were Mayor Keller’s proposed zoning code changes to allow the construction of 750 square foot casitas and 750 square foot duplex additions on every single existing residential lot that already has single family house in order to increase density. According to city officials, there are 120,000 residential lots that have existing homes. With the construction of “casitas” and “two family home” additions, density could double to 240,000 with casita structures alone or triple to 360,000 with both casitas and duplex home additions.
The zoning code amendments would make both casitas and duplex additions “permissive uses” and not “conditional uses” as they are now and have always been historically. A “conditional use” requires an application process with the city Planning Department, notice to surrounding property owners and affected neighborhood associations and provides for appeal rights. A “permissive use” would give the Planning Department exclusive authority issue permits for construction without notices and hearings and with a no appeal process. Objecting property owners and neighborhood associations to the permissive casita and duplex uses would be relegated to filing lawsuits to enforce covenants and restrictions.
The amendments are part of Mayor Tim Keller’s “Housing Forward ABQ Plan.” Keller proclaims the city is in a major “housing crisis” and the city has an immediate demand for 13,000 to 28,000 housing units including rental units. Keller wants to allow “different forms of multi-unit housing types” on existing residential properties. It is a “multifaceted initiative” where Mayor Keller has set the goal of adding 5,000 new housing units across the city by 2025 above and beyond what private developments and the construction industry normally creates each year.
The housing shortage is related to economics and the development community’s inability to keep up with supply and demand and the public’s inability to purchase housing and qualify for long term housing mortgage loans. The cost of residential developments impacts what can be developed and the return on investment is reflected by the market by the rents and appraised values. The cost of construction has soared the last two years fueled by inflation. Construction costs in the city are driven up further by the city building code requirements.
There is also a shortage of rental properties resulting in dramatic increases in rents. Apartments are currently experiencing a 95% occupancy rate. In November, 2022, it was reported that in the Albuquerque metro area, new building permits for a total of 4,021 new housing units were issued in the metro area in 2021 of which 35.1% are for units in buildings with 5 housing units or more with many currently under construction. In Albuquerque, about 2,000 units across 12 properties are already under construction, with an additional 2,485 units planned across 16 properties and 5,143 prospective units proposed.
KELLER ADMINITRATION PUBLIC RELATIONS CAMPAIGN
In March and April, the Keller Administration held a series of 5 public meetings scheduled for 1 hour and 30 minutes in the Downtown, Southwest, Southeast, Northeast, and the Northwest areas of the city to explain the Housing Foreword ABQ Plan to the public and cultivate public support. Mayor Tim Keller and all 9 members of the city council did not attend a single meeting.
The turnouts were considered high with between 50 and 100 people in attendance at each of the locations. Given the nature of the questioning, attendance consisted predominantly of angry property owners. The city’s slide presentations were made to audiences by various city departments including the Mayor’s Office, the Family and Community Services Department and the Planning Department.
CITY COUNCILOR GROUT SHUT OUT BY COMMITEE
During the April 12 LUPZ committee meeting former City Councilor, State Senator and progressive Democrat Eric Griego with the Mayor’s office made the identical presentation to the LUPZ Committee using the same slides and arguments made to the public on Keller’s “Housing Forward ABQ Plan” and the amendments to the Integrated Development Ordinance.
After the presentation by Eric Griego, Republican Councilor Renee Grout spent time questioning Griego. The Grout line of questioning of Griego included asking what stakeholders, neighborhood associations, developers and charitable organizations were involved with the process of developing the Mayor’s Housing Foreword ABQ Plan. She asked to what extent had the Keller Administration conferred with neighborhood associations and property owners on the plan. The line of questioning included to what extent had the Keller Administration incorporated, modified or changed the Housing Foreword ABQ Plan to reflect changes asked for at the 5 public forums.
Eric Griego’s responses to Councilor Renee Grouts line of questioning were totally inadequate bordering on being misleading as he hesitated, stammered and deflected answering her questions. Griego was not able to identify a single stakeholder, neighborhood association, developer or charitable organization involved with the process of developing the Housing Foreword ABQ Plan. There exists in the city upwards of 250 various neighborhood associations, yet Griego could not identify even one that was conferred with to develop the Housing Forward ABQ Plan.
What was most disappointing is that Griego was not able to say to what extent the Keller Administration incorporated, modified or changed the Housing Foreword ABQ Plan to reflect the desired changes asked for during the 5 public forums. Eric Griego said repeatedly the Keller Administration wants to work with the community and stakeholders to come up with a plan through communication and compromise, but he gave the unmistakable impression that the Keller Administration had changed absolutely nothing and has no intentions of changing anything.
After all public comments, Councilor Renee Grout attempted to amend what was being offered by the Keller Administration on casita and duplex developments. Grout repeatedly said she was trying to represent “neighborhood association” interests with her amendments, but she was given no support from the other 4 committee members. When Grout offered her amendments for discussion and input, she was not given the courtesy of a second by her colleagues to allow public discussion, not even by fellow Republicans Dan Lewis and Trudy Jones. Republican Trudy Jones is a cosponsor of Keller’s Housing Foreword ABQ Plan amendments and has announced she is not seeking another term. Republican Dan Lewis, who has made it known privately he is running for Mayor in 2025, given his silence during the April 12 LUPZ committee meeting and his vote to extended the casita allowance to include the city’s residential agricultural zone, ostensibly supports the casita and duplex amendments and the development community efforts.
Councilor Grout unsuccessfully tried to change the bill so property owners asking for a permissive use would have to undergo a public hearing process before building a casita and to require that casitas be at least 5 feet away from a property’s rear and side lot lines. To add insult to injury, the LUPZ Committee ignored Grout and extended the casita allowance to include the city’s residential agricultural zone.
Grout also wanted to strike Keller’s duplex allowance from the legislation entirely. Grout said this when she sought to strike Keller’s duplex allowance from the legislation entirely:
“I think that it would be odd in a regular neighborhood to all of the sudden have a duplex in the middle of the neighborhood. … When somebody spends their hard-earned money on a single-family home that was their biggest investment they ever made and (then), for the neighborhood to change, it scares some people.”
ACTION TAKEN BY COMMITTEE
The only thing Grout was able to accomplish was to amend the bill to require that casitas be the same color as the primary residence, but not that they be built with the same materials. While the committee did not significantly alter Keller’s duplex and casita allowances, it did change the parking elements. It struck the bill’s original language that drastically eased or, in some cases, eliminated parking-spot minimum requirements in apartment or multifamily housing developments. The committee added provisions that would lower by 30% the minimum parking spots that multifamily developers must provide and create a 20% parking exemption for certain developments that contain affordable housing.
The April 12 LUPZ Committee allowed for the first time public comments on the IDO updates. People were required to sign up an hour and a half before the meeting began. People were given a maximum of 2 minutes each to address the committee, a limitation strictly enforced with a timer and the ringing of a bell by committee chair Fiebelkorn requiring people to rush through their comments. Comments were made for and against Keller’s “Housing Forward ABQ Plan.”
NEIGHBORHOOD ASSOCIATIONS SPEAK OUT IN OPPOSITION
The majority of the speakers stated they had affiliations with neighborhood associations and they argued against the changes. The consensus amongst the neighborhood association representatives is that the zoning proposal is a rush job. Many of the speakers voiced concern that the changes would alter neighborhood character or invite developers to buy up single family homes and replace them with duplexes and casitas to maximize value.
A major risk that exists with the reclassification zoning of all single family lots to allow residential duplex development and casita development is it will encourage large private investors and real estate developers, including out-of-state corporate entities, to buy up distressed properties or lease and covert whole blocks into rental duplexes with substandard rental casitas. This will dramatically degrade the character of neighborhoods and the City as a whole.
To put the argument in perspective, an individual investor will be able to purchase single family homes for rental, add a 750 square foot two family home addition and build a separate 750 foot free standing casita which will result in a one home rental being converted into 3 separate rental units. Such development will increase an areas property values and property taxes. It will also decrease the availability of affordable homes and raise rental prices even higher. It will increase gentrification in the more historical areas of the city as generational residents will be squeezed out by the developers and increases in property taxes.
DEVELOPERS SPEAK OUT IN FAVOR WITH USUAL SUSPECTS
Not at all surprising, many developers spoke in favor of the zoning changes to allow casita and duplex developments on all residential lots in the city. The argument made by the developers to solve the city’s housing shortage was to simply build more, ignoring the economics of supply and demand and financing and assuming rents and market values will go down with building more housing.
The 2 most prominent speakers representing the commercial real estate development community who spoke in favor of the amendments and Keller’s Housing Foreword ABQ Plan were Jim Strozier, the President of the New Mexico Chapter of the National Association of Industrial and Office Parks (NAIOP), and NAIOP’s Executive Director Rhiannon Samuel. Both Strozier and Samuel proclaimed the city was in a housing crisis and the only way to solve it is to build more housing. NAIOP is considered the most influential business organizations in the city boasting membership of upwards of 300. NAIOP membership consistently bids on city construction contracts.
NAIOP is considered by many as very politcal and aggressive with lobbying efforts, its membership funds a Politcal Action Committee (PAC) and its known to make large donations exclusively to Republican candidates for City Council and Mayor even going so far as to host debates and endorse candidates.
Former 2 term Republican Mayor Richard Berry (2009 – 2017) was a contractor and member of NAIOP. Mayor Berry received NAIOP’s endorsements and extensive political contributions from its membership, especially in 2013 when he ran for a second term. In 2013, Berry’s re election campaign was privately financed and he raised $1.15 million, with large donations made by NAIOP membership, to run against city public financed candidate Democrat Pete Dinelli who was given and capped at $340,000 to finance his campaign. The result was Berry won by a landslide with the lowest voter turnout in the city’s history at 19%. It was Berry who in 2017 made the massive overall and repeal of all of the city’s zoning laws and sector development plans and the enactment of the Integrated Development Ordinance (IDO) a major priority before he left office. Berry did it within 2 years with the help and lobbying efforts of NAIOP, the Greater Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce, the Economic Forum and the business community.
In the 2019 municipal election, NAIOP endorsed and contributed to the city council campaigns of Republicans Trudy Jones, Dan Lewis and Renee Grout. NAIOP is known for its animosity towards city hall and opposition to city rules, regulation, zoning restrictions and construction codes and enforcement actions.
Also speaking in favor of “Housing Forward ABQ Plan” were people who work with low-income and homeless populations, homeowners interested in building casitas to keep their own family members close by, and college students and young people who said the changes could help make housing more affordable. College students and young people wanting casitas and duplex developments were particularly eloquent describing their struggles to make a living, often having to work two jobs and share housing with others to afford rent.
The idealistic argument of simply building more and having more housing units will reduce rents is not reality nor free market based. Historically, rents and housing pricing increase or stabilize, they do not ever decline. Property owners and landlords always charge what the market will bear and they get it.
COMMITTEE VOTES TO DEFER UNTIL APRIL 26
The LUPZ committee voted to defer all the amends and hear and debate them at least once more during its April 26 meeting before sending it up to the full council with recommendations where it could undergo additional amendments by the city council.
COUNCIL ALREADY VOTED TO ALLOW 18 CITY SANCTION HOMELESS TENT ENCAMPMENTS
Last year on June 6, 2022, the Albuquerque City Council voted on a 5-4 to allow city sanctioned tent encampments for the homeless in all 9 city council districts. “Safe outdoor spaces” will permit homeless encampments with 40 designated spaces for tents, allow upwards of 50 people, require hand washing stations, toilets and showers, require a management plan, 6-foot fencing and social services offered. The safe outdoor spaces are managed sites where people who are homeless can sleep in tents or automobiles and have on-site restrooms and shower facilities. The Integrated Development Ordinance amend adopted by the city council last year sets a limit of two in each of the city’s nine council districts for a total of 18.
COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS
A shanty town can be is loosely defined as an area of improvised buildings known as shanties or shacks of poor construction and that lack adequate infrastructure including proper sanitation, safe water supply, electricity and street drainage and parking. With Mayor Keller’s and the City Councils efforts to allow the construction of casitas and duplexes on virtually all residential lots in the city, they are hell bent on transforming the city into a massive “shanty town.” The City Council has already thrown in for good measure city sanctioned Safe Outdoor Space tent encampment for the homeless to help complete the “shanty town ambiance.”
LUPZ CHAIR TAMMY FIEBELKORN
In a truly remarkable display of class warfare she is known for, mid heights District 7 City Councilor Tammy Fiebelkorn, who chairs the LUPZ committee, repeatedly challenge the notion and disagreed that the proposed zoning changes allowing casitas and duplex development are dramatic or unnecessary. Fiebelkorn went out of her way to challenge the critics saying that the officials making these decisions will not be affected. Fiebelkorn said this:
“They live in gated communities with different rules. …If I wanted to live in a gated community, I could not afford to. … I live in a modest home that I literally bought 20 years ago and I could not afford today if I had to buy it again, which is why we’re here today having this conversation.”
Fiebelkorn’s remarks are the very kind of embarrassing “nonsensical blabber” she is known for as she inflames class warfare conflict between the “haves and have nots” and the different socio-economic classes, in this case property owners and renters, in the community. She did it before with her sponsorship of the “Residential Rental Permit Ordinance” where she falsely claimed her proposed odinanace would protect tenants from “predatory practices such as excessive application fees, clarifying that deposits must be refundable and capping other fees, especially in complexes that accept vouchers”. Her claims were false because all are already dealt with by existing laws and the courts, especially by a specialized metropolitan court program. Fiebelkorn was motivated to introduced her ordinance when she wanted rent control and she became angry when rent control was rejected by the City Council and the New Mexico State legislature.
Fiebelkorn needs to be reminded who her constituents are and the City Council District she represents. The Northern border is Montgomery, the Eastern border is Eubank, the Southern border is Lomas and the Western border is Carlisle to Menaul and then Menaul to Comanche then to Montgomery. District 7 is the Mid-Heights City Council District and is one of the most stable districts of single-family residential home developments. It is known for its diverse neighborhoods. It includes Coronado Shopping Center, Winrock and the Uptown Commons and all the surrounding areas and parts of the near northeast heights. The district does experience more than its fair share of residential burglaries and break ins, a problem Fiebelcorn simply ignored or showed no interest in dealing with when she campaigned for city council in 2021. Fiebelkorn promoted her own personal agenda of animal rights, class warfare and dealing with the homeless.
The entire District 7 was essentially completely built out from 1952 to 1985 with single family residents. The entire district has very little if any empty lot infill and the district is decidedly middle class. Home values have also significantly increase over the last 50 years. For example, 1,000 to 1,200 square foot Mossman Gladden Homes built in the 1960s and sold for $14,000 to $18,000 are routinely placed on the market today and sell for upwards of $250,000 to $275,000.
Fiebelkorn is a progressive extremist. She is known for belittling, insulting or ignoring constituents she disagrees with and confers only with a select few of her supporters. She believes her constituents want or agree with her bogus, extreme argument that the zone changes, she is obviously supporting, are needed and not dramatic. She did the very same thing with her support of city sanctioned homeless tent encampments. Increasing density 2 to 3 times by permitting casita construction and duplex development on all residences in District 7 is drastic by any measure and will increase property taxes and destroy neighborhoods that have been very stable for decades.
Councilor Fiebelkorn’s own residence she claims to have owned for 20 years has likely spiked in value and it’s doubtful she would sell it now for what she paid for it. She has not disclosed if she intends to construct a casita nor duplex on her own property to create 2 rentals thereby joining the likes of developers and NAIOP.
“HOUSING FORWARD ABQ PLAN”
Simply put, Mayor Tim Keller is using a short-term housing “crunch” to declare it a “housing crisis” in order to shove his “HOUSING FORWARD ABQ PLAN” down the throats of the city residents and property owners. Keller is declaring a housing crisis to advocate major zoning changes that will increase density and destroy neighborhoods relying on neighborhoods, investors and developers to increase density by laxing zoning restrictions for developers.
The City Council wants to empower the Planning Department to unilaterally issue “permissive uses” for “casitas” and “two family duplex development” on existing structures. The Planning Department will be allowed to exclude the general public from the permissible use application and deny adjacent property owners the right to object and appeal casitas and duplex remodeling. It essentially will require property owners to sue adjoining property owners to enforce covenants and restrictions, pitting individual neighbors against entire neighborhoods.
REVISITING THE INTEGRATED DEVELOPMENT ORDINANCE
The Integrated Development Ordinance (IDO) was enacted by the City Council on an 8-1 vote in 2017 a mere few weeks before Tim Keller was elected Mayor the first time. When then New Mexico State 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 laws, something he was never exposed to in his career as a State Senator and State Auditor.
Five years later, Keller ostensibly has had some sort of epiphany and education and 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 city’s development community and business community as he pretends to be an expert in the field of housing development and zoning matters. Keller is relying on his exaggeration of 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.
ANOTHER RUSH JOB TO FAVOR DEVELOPERS
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 by Mayor Berry 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.
The rush job on city zoning to favor developers is happening again. This time, Mayor Tim Keller has City Councilors Isaac Benton, a retired architect, and Republican Trudy Jones, a retired realtor, to carry his water for him by sponsoring the legislation. Both agreed to sponsor the legislation before they announced that they will not be seeking reelection this year and are anxious to push through the legislation before they depart on January 1, 2024.
EXPECT LITIGATION AND CLASS ACTION LAWSUIT
Absent from all the discussions empowering the Planning Department to unilaterally issue “permissive uses” for “casitas” and “two family duplex development” on existing structures is the fact that there will be a deprivation of notice and “due process law” rights and the denial of appeal rights to property owners by the city process in awarding permits to construct casitas and duplex additions.
City officials said at the 5 public meeting that covenants and restrictions contained in warranty deeds prohibiting construction of casitas and two-family duplex construction on existing housing were not the city’s concern when it came to issuing permits for a casita or a two-family duplex development even when covenants and restrictions prohibit such development.
The city officials proclaimed enforcement of real property covenants and restrictions were a private matter for enforcement between adjoining property owners by means of litigation. Simply put, the city cannot just ignore covenant and restrictions in real property ownership and deny notice and due process for the sake of allowing development. The city will be a necessary and proper party to any such litigation subject to the award of damages.
Since day one of enactment of all city comprehensive zoning codes and subdivision residential development plans, notice and appeal rights of have been an integrate component. Case law has also been established over decades. The city council has already enacted amendments that limit public input on amendments to the Integrated Development Ordinance thanks to Republican City Councilor Trudy Jones. The City Council cutting out notice and appeal rights of property owners and stake holders for the issuance of permissive uses allowing casitas and duplex development is an invitation for costly litigation and class action lawsuits where the city will be named a party.
BENTON, JONES AND DAVIS SHOULD RECUSE SELVES
At the Downtown area meeting presenting Keller’s “Housing Forward ABQ Plan” and the IDO amendments, city officials essentially admitted that all the public meetings and city council meetings and hearings on the amendments to the Integrated Development Ordinance will be completed in the matter of weeks with a final vote to be taken before the November 8 municipal election where at least 3 new city councilors will be elected. This fact justifies the need for Democrats Isaac Benton, Pat Davis and Republican Trudy Jones to do the ethical thing and seek to defer the updates and amendments to the Integrated Development Ordinance and updates until after the November municipal election. This will allow their successors to make the final decision and deal with the fallout of their decision.
Additionally, the so called “transformative changes” to the Integrated Development Ordinance to allow the construction of casitas and duplexes on all residential lots should be placed on the November ballot as an “advisory vote” to allow for a healthy debate amongst the candidates seeking to replace Benton, Davis and Jones. Such advisory votes have occurred in the past (i.e. construction of a soccer stadium for United New Mexico) with Mayors and City Councils respecting the opinion of the voters and not going forward.
At a bare minimum, the public should tell their City Councilors to oppose “casitas”, “two-family duplex” additions and denounce them for the zoning abominations that they are which is a threat to established neighborhoods and historical areas of the city.
CONTACT YOUR CITY COUNCILOR
Voters and residents are urged to contact and voice their opinion and tell all city councilors to vote NO on the amendments.
CITY COUNCIL PHONE: (505) 768-3100
CITY COUNCIL AND SUPPORT STAFF EMAILS
The link to an in depth related Dinelli blog article is here: