City wins challenge of rezoning decision for Old Pecos Trail development

May 15—In a blow to some residents who have vehemently opposed a proposed project on Old Pecos Trail, a state district judge has upheld a rezoning decision by the city of Santa Fe that will enable denser development on the property.

"We're very, very disappointed, and we're discussing our options now with our attorney," said Bruce Throne, a retired attorney and a member of a group of residents who joined homeowners' associations in appealing the zoning change to the First Judicial District Court.

The Santa Fe City Council, after a string of hourslong meetings, approved a zoning change for a 9.5-acre property at Old Pecos Trail and West Zia Road in early 2023 at the recommendation of the Planning Commission.

Previously, only nine homes would have been allowed on the property; the change, however, enabled Albuquerque developer Pierre Amestoy to move forward with a proposal to build 25 homes on the land.

A group of residents soon appealed the zoning change, arguing the council's decision violated the law in part because the city's general plan designated the area as a "scenic corridor." An attorney for the group, Tom Hnasko, also characterized the city's rezoning decision as arbitrary and claimed the city had denied residents opposed to the development due process, Judge Bryan Biedscheid summarized in his 23-page decision, filed in court Friday.

Biedscheid, who heard arguments in the case in early March, found the city acted lawfully, with "substantial evidence" to support its decision, and gave residents ample opportunity to make their opposition known. The city had characterized the rezoning as advantageous to the broader community to boost the city's housing supply, including the addition of some affordable housing.

"We are pleased to see that the Court recognized the efforts of the City's Governing Body, the Planning Commission, and the Land Use Department staff to ensure the Old Pecos Trail rezoning was fair and based on substantial evidence, the law, and existing policy," City Attorney Erin McSherry wrote in an email Wednesday.

Residents have not given up on halting what they view as an unlawfully approved development.

In April, a similar group filed an appeal of the City Council's February approval of a modified version of the project's plat. That case will deal with "different portions of the Santa Fe city code ... and different facts and conduct by the city and the developer applicant," Throne said in an interview Wednesday.