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.

Map courtesy of Bernalillo County Commission

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It’s a win for those who have been fighting for years to stop the Santolina Development on the southwest mesa. On October 13 the Bernalillo County Commission (BCC), with a vote of 4-1, voted to deny British Barclay Bank developers Western Albuquerque Land Holdings’ (WALH) appeal of the BCC decision which had previously denied the Santolina developer’s application for interim use.

Santolina, a community development located on Bernalillo County’s southwest mesa, is essentially a city about the size of Rio Rancho that will be located on land the British Barclays Bank received through a foreclosure. The project has been delayed for eight years.

As the proposed development has not begun, WALH introduced a Level BII Master Plan to the Planning Commission that they called “interim use.” At this point in the legal process, the development has no valid water contract, and they wanted to use the land for other purposes until development does begin. 

The Level BII Master Plan interim use application to BCC by WALH proposed building a tire landfill on the property and a massive solar farm on property slated for the Santolina housing development. A 300-acre tire dump and a 6,400-acre solar farm (half of the development’s acreage) suddenly appeared in the reworked development plan where homes and a planned community existed before in the original plan.

Organizations opposing the development said WALH appeared to be trying to circumvent the Planning Commission with their Level BII Master Plan, saying it was a complete rework of Plan A that was initially approved. 

WALH disagreed with the administrator’s report that stated that Level BII Master Plan landfill proposed by the developer was not an interim use and appealed the BCC decision. 

In their appeal filing, WALH stated the reasons for their appeal were: The decision was in error and did not properly apply county ordinances in arriving at the decision; several mistakes of fact underlying the appealed action were presented at the Board of Adjustment hearing; and by relying on these errors of fact, the Board of Adjustment acted arbitrarily and capriciously in arriving at their decision. 

The BCC stated their interpretation was based upon other instances of interim uses allowed by the Comprehensive Zoning Ordinance of Bernalillo County and was consistent with other municipalities’ adopted definitions of interim uses as defined by their ordinances.

“The permanent nature of a landfill, and the irreversible changes made to the land upon which it is situated, precludes a landfill from being considered for a Special Use Permit for interim uses in the Santolina Planned Communities Area,”  said the BCC in its ruling.

After their denial of WALH’s appeal at the hearing, the county recommended the developer amend the Master Plan instead of applying for interim use special permits in a piecemeal fashion.

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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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