Downtown Development: City, State Aim for Compromise on Rules

City’s Authority to Force Compliance with Historic Styles Ordinance in Question

 The New Mexican

Officials from the city of Santa Fe and the state are trying to come to an agreement about how to handle future development of state property within the downtown historic district.

Measures under consideration by both the City Council and Legislature are aimed at the problem, but disagreement is mounting about how the ideas might clash or mesh.

Leaders come to the table with a fundamental difference of opinion about whether the city has jurisdiction to force state compliance with its Historic Styles Ordinance.

“It’s a matter of collaboration, and we are trying to be good neighbors,” said House Speaker Ben Luján, D-Nambé, who introduced a bill about how the state would interact with local rules.

Preservation advocates have always maintained that the state gave the city authority to protect historic districts, and that authority means other governments such as the state and county have to submit to the rules, too.

The bill would codify the state’s intentions to be “generally compatible” with city rules. Some are worried, however, that it would undermine parallel efforts at the City Council to create a State Capitol Campus Historic District with preservation rules that apply solely to state buildings and land.

House Bill 360, which got a do-pass from the House Health and Government Affairs Committee on Tuesday, calls for the state to follow city rules as long as they establish “special provisions” that apply to state. Current rules focus more on homes than other uses. As introduced, the bill would also require projects to be “generally compatible with the municipal or county ordinances, within reasonable budgetary constraints.”

That vague language, however, is troubling to some.

“The biggest problem is that it says they will consult, collaborate and make an effort, but not comply,” said Marilyn Bane, president of the Old Santa Fe Association, who testified at the Capitol in the company of about 20 association members who also oppose the bill. “Every one of those verbs shows a great desire to collaborate but an absolute reluctance to put themselves under the authority of the city’s ordinances.”

The city’s Historic Design Review Board also opposes the bill, and has urged the state to slow down the process and allow instead the crafting of the Capitol Campus rules with the help of the state Capitol Buildings Planning Commission.

The campus rules would draw a line around the Roundhouse, PERA Building and other state-owned land in the neighborhood, then create standards about the “erection, alteration and destruction of exterior features of the buildings.”

City councilors on the Public Works Committee on Monday recommended the city initiate a planning process to accomplish that goal, as did the Historic Design Review Board on Tuesday night. Historic Preservation Division Director David Rasch said the standards are likely to primarily address height and architectural style.

In the past, some councilors have suggested the city should file lawsuits when proposed projects don’t comply with their interpretation of the state Historic District and Landmark Act of 1978 – a matter that came up when the county announced plans to build a new district courthouse that soared into the city skyline.

That project, however, is under construction with the city’s blessing after leaders agreed to make changes that substantially altered the building’s appearance.

County Attorney Stephen Ross said the local governments “agreed to disagree” about the jurisdiction of the Landmark Act and instead worked on an amenable solution. Neither entity took formal legal action to push the question of jurisdiction.

Last year, the City Council formally ordered City Attorney Frank Katz to talk with state attorneys about how to ensure state projects fall in line with city rules or else seek an opinion from the state attorney general about the topic. At issue was the planned construction of a parking garage next to the state Capitol Roundhouse.

Katz said the outcome of those talks resulted in a garage that better matched the historic style because the state asked its architects to work within the city rules as much as possible, and he didn’t seek that attorney general opinion after all.

“They sunk it a story to make it much less high and they did a huge amount of redesigning, and I think it’s actually going to be pretty damn good for a parking garage. … It turned into something that I think is going to fit in here,” he said.

The chairwoman of the city’s Historic Design Review Board strongly disagrees.

“It’s a huge building, and the way it is finished out I don’t support, and the board did not support it,” Sharon Woods said. “When all is said and done, I am very concerned that it is going to be one enormous building and that it’s not going to fit in.”

The two also disagree about what Luján’s bill would accomplish. Katz, who testified in favor of the bill Tuesday, believes it will compel the state to establish a process of public and city input. Woods’ perspective is that it strips the city’s authority of the issue.

The bill’s next stop is likely the House Taxation and Revenue Committee, but the bill does not yet appear on a particular committee agenda. Meanwhile, a resolution about the starting the process for the State Capitol Campus Historic District is slated for a final vote before the City Council tonight.