On April 12 and then April 26 the Albuquerque City Council Land Use and Zoning Committee held meetings 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 with FIebelkorn appointed as chair of the committees by progressive Democrat City Council President Pat Davis
Among the more controversial amendments considered was 0-22-54 which is 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. City officials have said that restrictive covenants and building set backs in property deeds are a private property matter between landowners that the city does not enforce.
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.
APRIL 12 LUPZ MEETING
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.”
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. Established neighborhood association leaders said their quality of life would be negatively impacted by increasing the population, diminishing their privacy, and creating more parking problems if ADUs became permissive uses.
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 by simply 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.
Also speaking in favor of “Housing Forward ABQ Plan” during the April 12 LUPZ committee hearing 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. They argued that Accessory Dwelling Units and duplexes in R-1 residential neighborhoods would help them.
EDITORIAL COMMENT: 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
During the April 12 LUPZ committee meeting former City Councilor, State Senator and progressive Democrat Eric Griego with the Mayor’s office made an identical presentation to the LUPZ Committee city officials made at 5 public hearings 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.
EDITORIAL COMMENT: 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.
Councilor Grout unsuccessfully tried to amend 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.”
APRIL 26 LUPZ MEETING
The April 26 City Council LUPZ committee meeting was simply a continuation of the April 12 meeting. People were allowed to speak on 0-22-54 allowing construction of Casitas and duplexes. The meeting again featured neighborhood association representatives and coalition leaders. Also testifying were a few past officials saying that the casitas, also known as Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs) should be conditional uses in R-1 neighborhood thereby giving neighbors and neighborhood associations a chance to be notified of the construction development and have a say on it.
Those speaking in favor of not changing the housing proposal from conditional use to permissive use were mostly commercial business owners. One speaker was an elderly woman who wanted a casita to be allowed on her daughter’s property. One hotel builder thought Casitas would negatively affect a project on the west side.
SECOND VERSE SAME AS THE FIRST
The April 26 hearing once again had District 9 City Councilor Renee Grout asking Eric Griego with the Mayor’s Office to what extent stakeholders, neighborhood associations, developers and charitable organizations were involved with the process of developing the Mayor’s Housing Foreword ABQ Plan. Eric Griego admitted that no neighborhood associations were consulted when the city drew up the change in zoning proposal to allow casitas and duplexes as permissive uses. Griego also admitted that the Keller Administration has not incorporated any of the changes proposed at the 5 public hearing believing there was no need for changes. What Griego did say is that the Keller Administrations simply reviewed what other major cities in the country are doing to increase density and developed the Housing Foreword ABQ Plan and the Keller Administration essentially “cherry picked” what they thought would work in Albuquerque.
A District 6 Coalition (the SE Heights International District) leader testified citing studies that showed Austin, Texas allowing the ADUs everywhere in hopes of increasing the affordable housing supply had not done so that and the opposite happened. She said older homes had been torn down to make way for smaller multiple dwellings on lots and rents had risen.
The Secretary of District 7 Coalition said that members had expressed the opinion that making the casitas Accessory Dwelling Units conditional use was a possible compromise and that, while District 7 had no objection to the city’s plans for converting hotels into low-cost housing units, they thought it was a temporary solution. According to the District 7 representative, the long term solution is to encourage and aid developers in building more apartments
At the conclusion of the Aril 26 public comments, City Councilor Renee Grout offered and moved for an amendment that would keep casitas and duplexes a conditional use mandating that notice and hearing be required by the Planning Department. City Councilor Dan Lewis seconded the motion. When City Councilor Grout asked for the Administrations position on the amendment, Deputy Chief Administers Bob White said the Administration opposed it. Grout was surprised and became noticeably irritated and said she had conferred with the Keller Administration earlier and was told the Administration had no problem with it. White conferred with Eric Griego and after words told Grout the Administration had no position and could not support the amendment at the time. Realizing she did not have the votes to pass the amendment in committee, Grout withdrew her amendment knowing she could still introduce it to the full council at a later date.
City Councilor committee members Tammy Fiebelkorn, Isaac Benton and Trudy Jones ignored all objections by the public to send 0-22-54 to the City Council with a “do pass recommendation.” Councilor Grout and Councilor Lewis voted against voting it out of committee with the “do pass recommendation”. Councilor Fiebelkorn then attempted to “fast-track” 0-22-54 to be heard at the next Council meeting for immediate action sidestepping further full city council hearings on all the amendments. Councilor Lewis objected strenuously, saying that such a “sweeping” change to the R-1 zone should not be pushed toward rapid Council introduction and a final vote at the same meeting. Councilor Fiebelkorn withdrew her fast-track proposal. Notwithstanding Mayor Keller’s housing changes as embodied in 0-22-54 will likely go before the full Council on May 15 for some discussion but not a final vote.
COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS
The City Council with enactment of 0-22-54 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.
Reclassification zoning of all single-family lots to allow residential duplex development and casita development 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 to rent, add a 750 square foot two family home addition and build a separate 750 foot free standing casita. The result is 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.
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. There is also a shortage of rental properties resulting in dramatic increases in rents. Mayor Tim Keller is using the short-term housing “crunch” to declare a “housing crisis” to shove his “Housing Forward Abq Plan” down the throats of the city residents and property owners. Keller is advocating transformative zoning changes to increase density by severely relaxing zoning restrictions to favor investors and the developers that will destroy entire neighborhoods.
Voters and residents are urged to contact and voice their opinion and tell all city councilors to vote NO on the 0-22-54 amendments.
CITY COUNCIL PHONE: (505) 768-3100
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