Ledes from the Land of Enchantment

Neighbors handed a huge burden and a tight timeline

As a long-term officer in a West Side neighborhood organization, I have tried to keep up with the Albuquerque City Council’s recent changes to the Neighborhood Association Recognition Ordinance (NARO) and Integrated Development Ordinance (IDO), as well as developers’ proposals near my house. However, those revisions and the way the city expects neighborhood to disseminate information and legitimate “community input” on development projects puts the volunteers who serve as officers in neighborhood organizations in a very difficult spot.

The recent NARO revisions require “neighborhood associations” (NAs) to have fairly extensive bylaws, operate in an extremely deliberate and democratic manner, avoid using even the most minimal dues as a condition of association membership, and adhere to due-process timelines that make it very difficult to organize neighbors over zoning and NARO changes or when a problematic development proposal arises.

When a neighborhood association meets the city’s criteria and is considered “recognized,” two of its officers receive email notifications of proposed developments within the neighborhood. It then becomes our responsibility as NA officers to notify and organize our neighbors if a development is problematic in terms of zoning or its impact on our neighborhood. Albuquerque’s development procedures, governed by the IDO, mandate that some development proposals require facilitated meetings with neighborhood stakeholders, and others do not. Unfortunately, the plans developers email to the neighborhood officers are often quite preliminary and may or may not fully satisfy the 630-plus pages of IDO rules for that particular lot and sector.

And, in its past few monthly meetings, the Albuquerque City Council has overridden a mayoral veto slowing changes to the NARO and offered a number of significant last-minute changes to the IDO on a number of substantive issues: how to handle “open space, ” Where to allow homeless encampments, how many off-street parking places apartment and retail developers need to provide, and whether or not a single development review officer can replace the board of planning professionals that used to make up the Development Review Board. The new NARO mandates potentially significant changes to the organization of our neighborhood associations, which are often loosely structured, non-bureaucratic organizations that meet infrequently and operate on shoestring budgets. The new NARO guidelines place the burden on NA officers to be attentive to last-second changes to the IDO’s zoning regulations and local development proposals, then alert neighbors when a proposal is problematic for the neighborhood’s property holders, renters and businesses. All this takes time, and presumes a level of administration and control that volunteer-run, privately organized NAs can hardly hope to meet.

Furthermore, NARO and IDO processes and amendment changes to the rules are now micro-managed by city councilors who may be acting in good faith to improve the planning and development process, or may be trying to circumvent existing zoning and sector plans for the benefit of specific constituent developers or key funders of their campaigns or political action committees (PACs). …

The city does require a property’s developer to provide notification to other property owners within 100 feet of a proposed development, rather than leaving notification primarily up to the two listed officers in a neighborhood association. However, for developments that would change the traffic, parking, pedestrian and ambiance of a neighborhood or sector, those distances are ridiculously short (and are sent by) a developer whose vested interests can sometimes be buried in a long, opaque proposal produced by its own representatives.

The stakes are high for Albuquerque’s neighbors, property owners and businesses, and it should not be left to the largess of developers, and the commitment, vigilance and competence of over-matched neighborhood officers such as myself to ensure there are guardrails on our city planning .

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