Approving the Agua Fria Proposal that Kills the Annexation Agreement With the City Will Create More Problems Than It Solves.
The County Commission will soon consider a proposal that negates the City-County annexation agreement and instead absorbs approximately 1,100 acres of land, over half of it vacant, into the traditional historic village of Agua Fria. This course of action, undertaken on behalf of roughly 200 residents of annexation Area 1B, will have far reaching and as-yet poorly understood consequences for Area 1B residents, Santa Fe County, and the larger Santa Fe community. By depriving Area 1B residents of City services, imposing significant additional costs on the County, and further constraining opportunities for transit-oriented affordable housing development on Santa Fe’s northside, the proposed expansion of the Agua Fria THC has the potential to create far more problems than it solves. For these reasons, we urge the Santa Fe County Commission to defer action on the proposed ordinance until its full implications can be studied and better understood by all stakeholders.
Background on the Annexation Plan
In 2009, the City and the County agreed to a comprehensive annexation plan that would define the future City limits by NM 599 to the north and west, I-25 to the south, and the mountains to the east. The annexation was to be completed in phases. All phases are now complete except the final phase, Area 1B. The City and County have been working diligently to finalize the last phase since early 2022.
Representatives from the City and County negotiating teams confirm that a final agreement eliminating any doubt about the area’s status was “very, very close” when they last met on January 4, 2023. At that time, all significant issues had been resolved, including:
- Provision of City services.
- Building and operating a new fire station, at the City’s expense, to serve the area (in fact, the City has already received an appropriation from the State to help build the fire station).
- Making needed improvements to West Alameda.
- Tying the area into City infrastructure, which would end its over-reliance on environmentally problematic well and septic systems and allow for the construction of affordable housing.
- Ensure all residents can vote and have representation in City elections.
As residents of an extraterritorial zone, the residents of Area 1B are in an ambiguous jurisdictional position, not fully part of the City nor unincorporated Santa Fe County. They are understandably frustrated with inadequate services and limited recourse. Allowing the annexation of Area 1B by the City to proceed would address many of the problems area residents have identified. In contrast, expanding the boundaries of the Agua Fria THC would compound these problems by creating further jurisdictional uncertainty.
Why Is This Move to Block the City and County’s Annexation Plan Happening Now?
There have always been opponents of the County and City’s annexation plan. When opponents saw that a final agreement was imminent, they undertook expansion of Agua Fria village in an 11th hour attempt to block it. Proponents of the Agua Fria expansion have been clear that they intend to impose very low-density zoning (no more than one unit per 2.5 acres, the minimum needed for septic systems, per County rules) if the land is absorbed into Agua Fria. That’s a huge problem because it’s impossible to build affordable housing on 2.5 acre lots.
Agua Fria Boundary Expansion Will Create More Problems Than It Solves
The expansion of Agua Fria Village into Area 1B is framed as a solution to the jurisdictional problems experienced by Area 1B residents, but, in reality, these problems, which would be solved by City annexation, will be made much worse by expansion of Agua Fria Village.
The proposed Agua Fria boundary expansion will:
- Destroy any hope for developing affordable housing on the city’s north side. Santa Fe already has a severe shortage of affordable housing. A staggering one-third of Santa Fe’s workforce is forced to commute from outside the city, intensifying the financial pressure on low- and moderate-income families who make up the backbone of our workforce. Enrollment in the Santa Fe Public Schools is declining, and the City’s most recent housing report shows an exodus of low- and moderate-income families. Simply put, taking a large, centrally located parcel of vacant land off the table for development will deprive the entire region of a critical opportunity to implement concrete solutions to our affordable housing crisis.
- Block opportunity for transit-oriented development close to jobs on the north side, midtown, and downtown. Stopping the City’s annexation of Area 1B will block an important opportunity for transit-oriented development close to jobs on the north side, midtown, and downtown. Transit-oriented development that allows for alternatives like public transportation and biking is key to breaking our automobile reliance and reducing our carbon footprint. Area 1B’s central location makes it a prime location for transit-oriented development. Locking this land into very low-density zoning will increase sprawl and carbon emissions.
- Segregates our community by concentrating affordable housing to the south side. By removing one of the last large developable parcel on the north side, the Agua Fria boundary expansion would further concentrate affordable housing development on the south side, further segregating the our community by income.
- Forever constrains the area by preventing environmentally conscious urban planning and precluding infrastructure improvements. Absorbing approximately 1,100 acres into Agua Fria Village and thereby designating it a “traditional historic community” will preclude desperately needed infrastructure improvements, including city water and sewer. Under the proposed boundary expansion, all future homes in Area 1B will require private wells and septic tanks and will be accessible only via narrow private roads. County rules require a minimum of 2.5 acres per septic system, thus lack of city water and sewer will prevent anything but expensive homes on multi-acre lots. The critical area should be master planned to consider our community’s future needs –– including affordable housing, public open space, biking and walking trails, and public amenities accessible by foot, bike, public transportation, and car.
- Creates unnecessary uncertainty for the residents of Area 1B. Blocking the City and County’s near final annexation agreement by approving the Agua Fria boundary expansion will create jurisdictional train wreck for Area 1B that will result in even greater jurisdictional ambiguity than already exists. For example, if the County approves absorbing Area 1B into Agua Fria, zoning will revert to the County’s default ‘Agricultural, Ranching’ zoning which allows for only one housing unit per 160 acres. This means that all the existing homes in the area will become non-conforming uses, complicating building permits and land use approvals.
- Requires County taxpayers to pay for infrastructure and services the City has already agreed to pay for. This includes losing the fire station the City has agreed to build and operate, as well as police and other services. If the County assumes financial responsibility for improvements that the City has already committed to, there will also be less money available for much needed infrastructure, including water system improvements, in other parts of the County. County taxpayers will bear costs that would otherwise have been born by the City.
- Destroys any hope for City-County cooperation in the foreseeable future. By forging ahead with the Agua Fria expansion, the County Commission would, at the 11th hour, blow up multi-year negotiations and effectively nullify years of work both parties have put into reaching a final annexation agreement. Any hope of future cooperation would be dashed by approving an alternative proposal that prioritizes the desires of few hundred people at great expense to residents of the entire region.
If the proposed boundary expansion is allowed to proceed, all Santa Fe residents will be harmed.
We urge the County to vote against this rushed effort to circumvent the annexation of Area 1B or, at the very least, table this ordinance to allow:
1) All stakeholders to study and fully understand the implications,
2) The County to analyze the cost County taxpayers, and
3) Santa Fe residents to better understand how such a decision will affect our community’s ability to provide affordable housing and pursue the kind of environmentally responsible development that is essential to our community and our planet’s future.
ADDITIONALLY, PLEASE SEE OUR PETITION LINK HERE