Outraged Residents Ensure Last-Minute Bill on Moratorium for Land Divisions Gets Tabled

 

The New Mexican

 
Santa Fe County got the smack down Tuesday night from county residents angered that the County Commission was holding a public hearing on a significant ordinance with almost zero notice to the public.

The proposed ordinance, which was tabled, would have imposed a six-month moratorium on most land divisions in the county. It was added to the meeting agenda less than 48 hours before the meeting, and copies of the proposed ordinance were made available only three hours before the public hearing began.

“It would have be more appropriate to have the hearing when people had the opportunity to actually review (it) and have some meaningful input,” said Jim Seibert, a developer’s agent. “Having the ordinance one hour before the meeting is not sufficient to understand it … In my opinion, due process has not been served.”

Seibert was one of more than a dozen people who spoke out against the proposed ordinance and the lack of public notice.

County Manager Roman Abeyta described the ordinance as a “time out” that would allow county staff time to finish a sweeping growth-management code rewrite, aimed at prohibiting sprawl and other unintended consequences of existing codes.

But attendees at Tuesday’s meeting – predominantly developers and related professionals – said it was “crazy” for the county to consider adopting an ordinance that would have a huge impact on the livelihood of so many Santa Feans without notice.

The ordinance would have placed a moratorium on most land divisions in the county, except those in the service area of county utilities and those inside a 2-mile perimeter around the city of Santa Fe.

“They didn’t get this out in time for the for the guys from Edgewood to see it,” joked surveyor Gary Dawson. “They would have come in with ropes.”

Dawson was one of about six surveyors who spoke out against the ordinance and the effect it would have on their ability to earn a living.

“Somebody found out about it and it spread like wildfire,” said Dean Shrader, a surveyor who said he had about four projects in progress that would not go through if the ordinance passed.

“If we’re not doing land divisions, I don’t know what I’m going to do,” he said. “I’ll be out of work tomorrow.”

The eight-page ordinance, which had a title containing more than 100 words, was written by Robert Freilich, the Los Angeles-based land-use attorney hired by the county to write the oil and gas moratorium and subsequent ordinances.

The land-division ordinance was billed as an “Emergency Interim Ordinance,” just as the moratorium on oil and gas had been.

But those who attended Tuesday’s meeting said they didn’t see what the emergency was, pointing out that the county’s development code has been a changing document for more than 20 years.

“Emergency? What is the emergency?” asked Barry Phillips, another surveyor. “Because this job wasn’t done two to three years ago, when it was supposed to be done?

Ted Harrison, president of the Commonweal Conservancy – which is planning a 13,000-acre eco-friendly development in the Galisteo Basin – called the ordinance a “blunt tool” that would “end our project.”

Attorney Karl Sommer said the language of the ordinance itself was confusing and inaccurate. “If all of you understand this, I applaud you,” he said to the commissioners. “Those of us that have been working on this for 20 to 30 years can’t get a handle on it in the amount of time we’ve been given.”

In the end, the commission agreed to table the measure until the Jan. 27 meeting.

But they said something will need to be done to keep the commission from having to process thousands of applications from people trying to get their projects approved before new codes are put in place.

The New Mexican learned of the proposed ordinance around 10 a.m. Tuesday and tried unsuccessfully to get a copy of it before the 3 p.m. meeting. County public-information officer Stephen Ulibarri – who did not answer his phone or return calls on the matter throughout the day – provided the document via e-mail at 4:58 p.m. Another county employee who was asked for a copy of the ordinance said that the legal department would not release it, even to him, before 3 p.m.