Controversial center gets key approval
Some neighbors worried about more traffic, loss of green space
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.