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Gwynne Ann Unruh is an award-winning reporter formerly of the Alamosa Valley Courier, an independent paper in southern Colorado. She covers the environment for The Paper.

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The Westside of Albuquerque, with its flat expanse of land, is the future for the city for growth, jobs and opportunities. It has tons of new housing but few employers or amenities. Much of the development right now is concentrated on large industrial areas based on the Integrated Development Ordinance for Albuquerque from 2017, which continues to be used and updated regularly as Bernalillo County’s Westside is mostly undeveloped.

For the next 20 years of development of the Westside, the leaders of Bernalillo County have envisioned areas filled with industrial parks, neighborhoods with large open spaces and commercial businesses dotted throughout with lots of employment opportunities.

The Giant

One of the bigger commercial projects on the Westside is the new Amazon distribution warehouse. The company is more famous now than ever, with its very IFO (Identified Flying Object) propelling the richest man alive, Jeff Bezos, into space high above all of us—perhaps looking down and rubbing his hands together as he saw how many more areas of the planet he could expand into.

Amazon has landed in New Mexico with a Goliath fulfillment center in Bernalillo County scheduled to open in late 2021 that will employ well over 1,000 people. The five-story facility—five times larger than Amazon’s initial presentation—will be one of the largest buildings in the state. To give you the image of what the 2.58 million square feet of “fulfilling your heart’s desire” will hold, picture 14 to 15 large Sam’s Clubs stuffed inside with room to spare.

Amazon has pledged $2 billion to build affordable housing near hub cities Arlington, Nashville and Seattle. So far there’s no word of anything like this for Albuquerque.

The County Commission did approve $6.5 million for the Westside to receive upgrades to roads, lighting and other infrastructure along the Atrisco Vista Boulevard, the I-40 interchange and the road leading into the business park where Amazon is setting up its operation. Amazon joins, and dwarfs, Shamrock Foods, Tempur-Pedic and FedEx commercial facilities already located in the area.

The Houses

Thomas Development Co. is gearing up to build two affordable housing options on Albuquerque’s Westside near Coors Boulevard and Bluewater Road. Development CEO Thomas Mannschreck confirmed the two affordable housing communities are for families and seniors, respectively.

Garrett Development, the asset manager for Western Albuquerque Land Holdings (WALH) has been investing in 53,000 acres on the Westside. This year they got another deal with Amazon for a 280,000 square foot facility, in addition to the fulfillment center currently being built.

The Shadow of Santolina

Much of the land surrounding the new Amazon facility is owned and managed by WALH. WALH is also developing the land for the Santolina development south of I-40, which is owned by Barclays Bank. WALH has been involved in legal battles with locals for close to a decade over its development of the Santolina planned community.

On August 25 the Bernalillo Board of County Commissioners will rehear New Mexico Environmental Law Center’s appeal that was first raised back in 2014 over the recommendation of the Bernalillo County Planning Commission (CPC) for the zone map amendment from agricultural to planned communities. The zone change was remanded from the State of New Mexico Court of Appeals to correct a procedural issue. The hearing will no longer consider WALH’s appeal of interim-use definition. If new evidence with good cause is submitted that was not previously presented, the Board may remand the case to the CPC for consideration.

The Airport

The large Double Eagle II Airport lies just north of the business zone. Approximately 130 acres of privately held land that sits just south of the runway at Double Eagle Airport on the Westside sold within the last two months. A non-disclosure agreement prevented Jim Wible—a Certified Commercial Investment Member who works with NAI SunVista as a land, industrial and investment advisor—from telling The Paper. who bought the property. Currently, the zoning requires use of the property for aviation-related purposes. “It has to have some relationship to the airport and to aviation needs, as the overlay that is part of the Double Eagle master plan specifies those uses,” Wible explained. “They would have to go to the planning commission and try and rezone it if they wanted to do something other than an aviation use.”

The airport was built in the early 1970s as a “reliever” general aviation airport for the Sunport, which handles Albuquerque’s commercial airline traffic. The city’s projection estimates that by 2035 there will be more than 102,000 aircraft uses at Double Eagle in a single year. A Master Plan for Double Eagle presenting a 20-year outlook calls for about $60 million in construction projects at the airport over the next two decades. Most of these can be paid for with federal funding or grants from the “AIP” or Airport Improvement Program.

Bernalillo Commissioner Debra O’Malley continues to raise questions about whether the Double Eagle II Airport, which now serves military training activities along with private and small corporate planes, might be expanded. O’Malley feels the airport may have a larger role to play In the future since the Amazon center is a massive logistics hub.

“The airport runway couldn’t support a cargo jet without a runway extension, and that would be up to the city if they want to extend it and take some of the pressure of the Sunport airport,” Wible said.

The Future?

“We have many inquiries about purchasing commercial property for industry and land buyers wanting to develop flat land for housing on the Westside.” Wible said. “In Bernalillo, the sales cycle is longer because they have to get approvals for their project, permits and designs are done prior to going through any public hearings and that all takes time. There is a big demand for facilities that want to be carbon-neutral and be more responsible for the environment.” 

Developers of all types coming to The Land of Enchantment need to be willing to hear the voice of its people as they stand up for water equity, against pollution and unnecessary sprawl, climate change issues and any development that is not sustainable.

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