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August 3, 2011

C/O Petra Morris

Dear Chair and Committee members,

The Downtown Neighborhood Association (DNA) would like to present these comments for your consideration. The DNA is strongly in favor of the draft DNASDP plan. In particular, we are strongly in favor of these parts of the plan:

• removal of the townhouse zoning in established single-family areas,
• addition of residential to Central Ave.,
• creation of the demolition review,
• restrictions on bail bonds,
• removal of unenforceable zoning such as RC and MRO zoning,
• change in zoning along Mountain Road and Tijeras to create clarity, consistency, and enforceability and preserve the mix of existing residential and neighborhood commercial uses,
• support of historic preservation, which is very important to residents of the neighborhood, and
• design standards for new construction that would ensure architectural compatibility with the rest of the neighborhood. (For example, attached garages & their doors are not allowed to be a prominent feature in front of a house.)

However we have a number of concerns with some of the EPC recommendations,
and we have a couple of additional recommendations we would like the LUPZ to consider as well.

The EPC findings make two important errors regarding the Centers and Corridors designation of streets in the plan area. On pages 5 and 6, Mountain Rd is said to be in the Centers and Corridors plan, but it is not. The findings also state that Central Avenue is an Enhanced Transit Corridor when it is actually a Major Transit Corridor. These distinctions are significant because they are part of the basis for the plan’s different treatments for land uses along Central (Major Transit Corridor), Lomas (Enhanced Transit Corridor), and Mountain (not an identified corridor).

The EPC recommends for MUM that there be 0-foot rear setbacks along alleys. Zero rear setbacks along alleys present some problems in that the widths of alleys in our neighborhood vary. It may be difficult for rescue or utility vehicles to maneuver and impossible for someone to make a turn into a garage in some areas without a setback. We believe the setback along the alleys should remain consistent throughout the plan and not differ for MUM along Lomas, 5th and 6th streets. We suggest requiring a 15’ setback from the centerline of the alley to ensure consistency throughout the plan area.

The EPC recommendation to reduce the open space requirement in the MUM zone to 30 square feet per dwelling unit is inappropriate to maintain the character of the area along the streets where MUM is proposed. Additionally, there are no parks along Lomas, as there are on Central (Soldiers and Sailors and Robinson parks), to offset such a small open space requirement. We request the LUPZ increase the open space requirement for MUM to, at the very least, a minimum of 100 square feet per dwelling unit.

The recommendation for a reduction to 30 square feet open space requirement along the Central Ave. corridor is also too extreme. The requirement can be lower than in the MUM zone since Central is a Major Transit Corridor where somewhat higher density development is appropriate and because there is nearby public park space to offset a relatively small amount of private open space. However, in keeping with the moderate levels of density and height allowed in the CC zone, we recommend that the open space requirement be raised to at least a minimum of 50 square feet per unit.

The DNA originally requested that the sector plan prohibit bail bond businesses entirely in the sector plan area. These businesses are not typical office uses. They operate for extended hours, sometimes 24-hours a day, usually have brightly lit signs that disturb neighbors and are out of compliance with current sign restrictions, and by nature they are doing business with people who are in trouble with the law. These attributes are not compatible with residential uses.

Planning staff suggested allowing bail bond businesses within a 500 to 1,000-foot radius of the courthouses, as has been done in other cities. We would agree with a 500-foot radius, but the EPC’s recommendation of a 1,000-foot radius would allow these businesses to expand too far into areas that closely border established residential uses, specifically along Mountain, Lomas, and portions of Slate and 7th Streets that border or share the alley with properties on Lomas.

Restricting bail bond businesses to within 500-feet of the courthouses is a reasonable balance. This radius would encompass the area where the large majority of current bail bond businesses have located, and the remaining businesses outside of that radius could remain as legal, non-conforming uses (as long as they are complying with current zoning). With the 500-foot radius, the restrictions on the hours of operation could be eliminated.

The DNA disagrees with the EPC’s recommendation to retain SU-2/HAD zoning from the 1976 plan for a portion of the block between Tijeras, Kent, 9th, and 10th. There are several significant problems with this surprising recommendation.
1. The EPC singled out a particular property and owner for special treatment – including creating a whole new zoning category just for them – clearly creating a spot zone. This change does not meet the requirements in the Code of Resolutions Section 1-1-2 since it does not help further the Comprehensive Plan or other area plans but was instead changed in spite of the recommendations of a deliberative planning process. The EPC did not provide any justification for the different treatment.
2. Furthermore, the EPC’s findings justified the rezoning of multiple properties from HDA to MR. These properties are not different from the 10th & Tijeras property, and the 10th & Tijeras property will be surrounded on three sides by MR zoning, including the immediate neighboring property. The fourth side is zoned MUL, which is more restrictive on building heights.
3. The HDA zoning that EPC applied to the property relies primarily on R4 zoning for its regulations, but the R4 zone category no longer even exists, so the HDA zone is entirely ambiguous and would need to be fully defined – just for one property owner.
The property should remain zoned MR as originally proposed to the EPC.

The DNA’s intentions in proposing MUL zoning to eliminate RC zoning was to mirror the Wells Park Plan on the north side of Mountain Road and to address the numerous problems with enforcing the RC zoning. The most significant problem is that RC zoning allows a maximum of 50% office use of a property, but that requirement has been impossible to enforce.

The common enforcement problem is that people have established 100% office uses in RC-zoned houses, but when challenged they have claimed that they lived there or had someone living there. To other people living on the same street it was obvious that they were not living there. However, the city zoning office, obviously lacking the resources to stake out a property to see that nobody was there night after night, was not able to determine that this was the case because of easily staged evidence, like food in a refrigerator, the presence of a bed, and clothes in a closet. Some of these businesses have been operating illegally for years, not because neighbors haven’t challenged them but because the city zoning office hasn’t been able to prove that they are, in fact, 100% office uses.

Our intention with the MUL zone change is to clearly identify where non-residential uses are appropriate (basically where that use has historically occurred, primarily along Mountain Road) and where they are not – not to reward illegal businesses that have been operating illegally out of RC-zoned houses for years. The MUL zone creates three tests (MUL section A.3.) for where non-residential use is permissive, basically if any of the following are true: 1) if most of the other properties on that block face are non-residential, 2) if the property has a building that’s been in non-residential use for a long time, and 3) if the building was originally built for non-residential use.

We recommend the following changes to clarify the MUL zoning:

1. The second test – for long-time non-residential use (MUL section A.3.b.) – needs to be amended based on our experiences with the RC zoning. The language needs to specify that non-residential uses are allowed if the subject property has contained a legal, 100% non-residential use for the last ten years.
2. We do not agree with the EPC’s recommendation that non-residential use be allowed where it has occurred for only six years. The requirement should be 10 of the last 50 years to match the Wells Park requirement on the other side of Mountain and to identify truly long-standing non-residential uses.
3. Current RC zoning (proposed MUL) extends several lots down three local streets intersecting Mountain Road: 8th, Forrester, and 11th Streets. These lots all have houses on them that do not meet the tests above and are not appropriate for non-residential use. Therefore, the MUL section A.3. should read: “Non-residential uses as listed under A.2. above are permissive provided the uses do not face a local street and any one of the following conditions are met….” Likewise, non-residential uses that face a local street should be removed from the list of conditional uses (C.1.).