Albuquerque Journal (Albuquerque, NM)

Fickle City Zoning Doesn't Pay.(Final)

Byline: Scott Sandlin Journal Staff Writer

Commons Judgment Is Latest Example

In a 2002 political cartoon, a talking-head professor type is being interviewed about the rise of radical groups.

"... Of course, much like the Italian Fascist Party and the Khmer Rouge, the Taliban actually started out as a neighborhood homeowners association," he says.

If extreme, the cartoon's exaggeration nevertheless suggests one view of how the city of Albuquerque got to the point where it now sits. Land use/development questions get decided by City Council politics based on outspoken constituents' wishes rather than by a neutral body, according to that viewpoint.

And Albuquerque is paying the price -- in millions.

In February, a jury found that Albuquerque Commons Partnership was denied a fair hearing and deprived of its property rights when the city adopted a new Uptown sector plan in 1995.

The partnership had, in a joint venture, planned to develop a retail shopping center on leased land between Winrock and Coronado malls -- the site of the old St. Pius High School.

It introduced its plan to the city based on the sector plan in place at that time; it did not comply with the new sector plan approved months later.

Eight years later, in the midst of a budget crisis, the city is staring at an $8.3 million judgment and another million or so in attorney fees and costs.

The Hinkle Family Fun Center won a $1.5 million judgment in 2000 over a similar zoning issue.

Community outcry

The city is facing the latest judgment in large part because neighborhood groups prevailed on the city to halt the shopping center, which would have had five retail stores, several restaurants and 900 parking spaces, after it was well under way and after the developers had met legal obligations for building it. …

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