It hasn’t been quick, and it hasn’t been easy, but over the course of the past decade the Santa Fe Association of REALTORS® has spearheaded a movement that will transform an under-developed 1.5-mile stretch of highway that runs through the heart of its city. Using two Smart Growth Action Grants, SFAR has helped spur the Midtown redevelopment with an emphasis on form-based zoning and affordable housing.
The thoroughfare is St. Michael’s Drive, and the segment in question, now a seven-lane highway, is anchored at one end by a hospital and associated medical businesses, and at the other by a now-defunct college campus owned by the city. In between, the corridor features significant excess road capacity in addition to 1960s and 1970s-era commercial-strip development that supports a somewhat marginal business climate. Santa Fe, like many communities across the country, is experiencing a serious workforce housing crunch, says Donna Reynolds, SFAR’s Government Affairs Director, and the St. Michael’s Drive redevelopment project presents a real opportunity to address the shortage.
Ten years ago, when the City of Santa Fe identified the St. Michael’s highway segment for redevelopment, it was only natural that the REALTORS® would see the possibilities for workforce housing and mixed-use development – and act on them; SFAR has long championed programs and initiatives supporting affordable housing throughout the city, notes Reynolds. In 2011, the association secured a $15,000 Smart Growth Action Grant to create a housing study to determine the numbers of affordable rental and for-sale units that could be developed; the study also made policy recommendations to help incentivize housing construction along the corridor.
Reynolds credits the city’s former Asset Development Director, who was well-versed in forward-thinking land use issues, with developing the progressive new Midtown Local Innovation Corridor (LINC) Overlay District. This district, portions of which have since been designated as an Opportunity Zone, embraces a forms-based land use code, encourages multi-family housing, and lifts barriers to development by eliminating city-land development fees; granting certain projects the ability to purchase water rights from the city at cost; and allowing certain types of preferred development projects to bypass the lengthy permitting process with by-right staff approval. “This is a very unusual overlay district, in that it is less, not more, restrictive, and actually removes many of the hurdles that had made development of affordable housing a lengthy, uncertain, and unrewarding process,” says Reynolds. “We were extremely lucky in having an advocate inside City Hall who could make the fiscal case for lighter restrictions, and demonstrated that there was greater economic benefit to be had in promoting development, than revenue from permits could ever bring in.”
A second Smart Growth Action Grant in 2014 helped SFAR to build on the momentum created by the creation of the Midtown LINC. It established an active stakeholder alliance of roughly 120 property owners and businesses who support redevelopment within the St. Michael’s corridor. It also supported a multi-family housing conference that attracted more than 130 attendees, expert speakers, and several major industry sponsors. And finally, it helped to launch a vibrant new website for Midtown LINC, to promote the corridor and its redevelopment.
The City of Santa Fe is actively soliciting development proposals for city-owned land, and is considering establishing similar progressive overlay districts elsewhere in the city. The Midtown LINC is now trying to engage the state of New Mexico, which owns the actual street, to form a partnership with the city to transform the streetscape itself into an attractive bike-and-pedestrian friendly boulevard.
“Our experience here in Santa Fe shows that the REALTOR® Party’s Smart Growth Grants can make a very big difference,” says Reynolds. “They amounted to $30,000 over a decade, and we sure got a lot out of them; in fact, we now have a model that can be replicated in other areas of our city and beyond, so the eventual impact is probably even greater than we realize. We’re so grateful for the support from the REALTOR® Party that makes this kind of progress possible.”
To learn more about how the Santa Fe Association of REALTORS® is improving its communities with help from the REALTOR® Party, contact Donna Reynolds, Government Affairs Director, at 505-982-8385.