ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – Neighbors are picking a fight with another new building going up near Central Avenue in Nob Hill, claiming the city skirted the rules without giving them a say.
The Nob Hill Neighborhood Association says it will file an appeal against the under-construction apartments at the corner of Aliso Drive and Copper Avenue. Neighbors claim the building is too tall and shouldn’t have four floors.
Meanwhile, Albuquerque city officials say the apartment building is now within the required limits and that city officials didn’t break any rules in granting the developer a special exemption for construction.
Crews are currently building a four-floor, 12 unit town home style apartment building on part of the site of the old Tewa Motor Lodge in Nob Hill. The building has seen on and off construction over the last few months because of design issues, specifically related to the building’s height and the number of floors.
Those issues have been worked out according to the Albuquerque Planning Department, but neighbors disagree.
“What’s at issue here is, again, the process,” said Adrian Carver, president of the Nob Hill Neighborhood Association.
Carver says the association is now in the process of filing an appeal against the city’s decision to approve construction at the site, saying neighbors should have had a say in the final exemption the city granted the project.
“The neighborhood and the public should have a voice in the way that that decision is made,” said Carver.
Originally, the Albuquerque Planning Department approved a 42-foot tall building for the corner of Aliso and Copper. The city’s Deputy Planning Director Brennon Williams says that approval shouldn’t have happened.
“The building was taller than it was supposed to be,” said Williams.
It was about three feet taller than it should have been. According to rules outlined in the Nob Hill-Highland “Sector Development Plan,” the maximum allowed building height should have been 39 feet. The building also shouldn’t have been allowed to have a fourth floor.
The city says the initial mistakes were an oversight.
“My understanding is that, not only the complexity of the (Nob Hill-Highland) Sector Development Plan, the unique standards and nuances of that plan, combined with the project that was being put forward … that that contributed to the oversight initially as it related to the building heights,” said Williams.
Once problems were discovered, the city made the developer halt construction on the project.
“We put a stop work notice and put a red tag on the project,” said Williams.
In September, the city ultimately made the developer reduce the total height of the building to 39 feet. However, the city’s planning department approved a special exemption to the Nob Hill Highland Sector Development Plan, allowing the building have four floors.
The approval was authorized by Albuquerque Planning Director Suzanne Lubar. In an interview with KRQE News 13, Deputy Planning Director Brennon Williams said the department agreed to allow the four floor exemption based on discussions with the developer about the project’s overall density and the city’s interpretation of the Nob Hill Highland Sector Development Plan (SDP.)
Williams says the department felt the SDP’s building height and story limitations were meant to protect the neighborhood from large apartment complexes being built.
“Because (the proposed building) was so unique and the arrangement where… it’s not four floors of apartment units, but it’s actually two floored– double floored units, the density was actually less for this particular project than it would be for a project at three or even four stories,” said Williams.
“It’s not a situation where we’ve got a developer that’s trying to sardine a bunch of people, which obviously would be a concern of any neighborhood,” said Williams.
However, the neighborhood association thinks it should have had a say in that special approval. They’re also still concerned the building is too tall.
“This is again, an example of the pattern of behavior that the city and bureaucrats at the Planning Department have used to rubber stamp projects for well-connected developers,” said Carver.
The city denied allegations of “rubber stamping” projects, saying it followed all the rules necessary to grant the building special approval for four floors.
According to city code, the city’s Planning Director is allowed discretion to approve the exemption under “Sector Development Plan Procedures,” (14-16-4-3).
Under section D, titled, “Review and Administration,” rule two allows the planning director to “approve minor changes to an approved Sector Development Plan or Landscaping Plan if it is consistent with the use and other written requirements,” if buildings are of “the same general size,” and “neither the city nor any person will be substantially aggrieved by the altered plan.”
The neighborhood association is planning on filing an appeal soon. It is also planning on an appealing against the city’s approval of four floor storage facility on the corner of Central and Montclaire.
As for the future, according to the city’s memo outlining the building’s final approval, the exemption “shall not be used as precedent or as a justification for any other request for change” to the Nob Hill Highland Sector Development Plan in the future.