Con­tro­ver­sial cen­ter gets key ap­proval

Some neigh­bors wor­ried about more traf­fic, loss of green space

Albuquerque Journal - - METRO & NM - BY JES­SICA DYER JOUR­NAL STAFF WRITER

A con­tro­ver­sial com­mu­nity cen­ter project in South­east Al­bu­querque took a sig­nif­i­cant step for­ward Thurs­day, with city’s En­vi­ron­men­tal Plan­ning Com­mis­sion unan­i­mously ap­prov­ing the as­so­ci­ated site plan.

The city of Al­bu­querque’s pro­posed Singing Ar­row Com­mu­nity Cen­ter — a roughly $5 mil­lion, 15,000-square-foot build­ing in a park south of the Four Hills Vil­lage Shop­ping Cen­ter — has drawn mixed re­ac­tions from neigh­bors. Op­po­nents who spoke at Thurs­day’s EPC meet­ing com­plained about po­ten­tial traf­fic and crime in­creases and the elim­i­na­tion of green space in a park that al­ready has a com­mu­nity cen­ter. Sev­eral in­di­vid­u­als and groups also have writ­ten let­ters to the city ob­ject­ing to the project, with some ques­tion­ing the ne­ces­sity and plan­ning process.

Colleen Ay­cock, who spoke Thurs­day, said the city should put the re­sources else­where.

“These are won­der­ful site plans, they are beau­ti­fully done, and the busi­nesses and or­ga­ni­za­tions I talked to want those site plans put on Cen­tral (Av­enue), on one of the va­cant lands, to be used as a com­mu­nity cen­ter and dual cen­ter for a po­lice sub­sta­tion so we can re­ally truly get com­mu­nity oper­a­tions,” she said.

But the project has some neigh­bor­hood sup­port from those who say it will bring ser­vices to an area with many low-in­come res­i­dents, as the city will use the ex­ist­ing com­mu­nity cen­ter to ex­pand child­hood devel­op­ment pro­grams.

Sarah Del­gado even al­leged fear mon­ger­ing among op­po­nents who have as­sailed the project as a mag­net for va­grants and crime.

“Please don’t en­ter­tain them; please let us have our new com­mu­nity cen­ter,” she said.

While the city ini­tially in­tended to just ren­o­vate the ex­ist­ing com­mu­nity cen­ter, a 2013 as­sess­ment re­quested by area City Coun­cilor Don Har­ris found a “new, ex­panded fa­cil­ity could serve more fam­i­lies” in an area where ap­prox­i­mately 29 per­cent of house­holds have an­nual in­comes un­der $25,000. It also is an area where “the great­est need ap­pears to be af­ford­able pro­grams for pre-school chil­dren and be­fore- and af­ter-school pro­grams for el­e­men­tary school chil­dren,” ac­cord­ing to Har­ris.

The EPC — ap­pointed cit­i­zens who serve on a vol­un­teer ba­sis — agreed with the city plan­ning staff’s rec­om­men­da­tion to ap­prove the site plan. Mem­bers noted their pri­mary role is de­ter­min­ing if the plan meets the city’s devel­op­ment or­di­nance re­quire­ments. They agreed that it does.

“I ap­pre­ci­ate the com­ments that we have heard form the pub­lic,” com­mis­sioner Karen Hud­son said. “We all in Al­bu­querque are con­cerned about crime; we un­for­tu­nately hear about it a lot more than we would like. This is not the only area in town that has crime is­sues and we get that, but ac­cord­ing to the staff re­port, crime ... doesn’t seem to be an is­sue that would cause us to re­ject this project.”

The EPC’s ap­proval means a build­ing per­mit can be sought for the cen­ter. How­ever, op­po­nents could file an ap­peal and per­haps el­e­vate the mat­ter to the City Coun­cil. An ap­peal would go to an in­de­pen­dent hear­ing of­fi­cer, who would make a rec­om­men­da­tion to the City Coun­cil. The coun­cil could ac­cept the rec­om­men­da­tion or hold its own pub­lic hear­ing on the mat­ter be­fore mak­ing a fi­nal de­ter­mi­na­tion.

Har­ris, who rep­re­sents the neigh­bor­hood and has backed the new project, said he would re­cuse him­self from any such vote but says he’s dis­heart­ened by the back­lash.

“It is re­ally dis­ap­point­ing that those highly ed­u­cated re­tired peo­ple would spend so much time and en­ergy op­pos­ing a new fa­cil­ity that will pro­vide ser­vices to poor chil­dren,” he said in a writ­ten state­ment.

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