8-31 Gov. and Santa Fe Duel
By JAY MILLER
SANTA FE -- Gov. Bill Richardson has revealed a grand plan for the terminus of his Belen-to-Santa Fe commuter train initiative. It is a major blow for Santa Fe's railyard project, but city officials had it coming.
The Richardson administration is proposing that private developers finance and build a mixed use transit hub for commuter rail -- along with a new office building for the state Transportation Department on state-owned land near downtown Santa Fe.
The project carries an estimated budget of $90 million but could go much higher if developers decide to significantly broaden the scope of the proposed state plan.
Normally that wouldn't happen within the city limits of Santa Fe because ordinances severely limit the density of projects in order to keep them consistent with Santa Fe style.
But this is state property we're talking about and the state can do what it wants with its property. No city can tell it what to do.
That principle was firmly established in a 1979 case in which the court ruled that Santa Fe could not prevent state Land Commissioner Alex Armijo from putting a pump jack in front of the state Land Office building to honor the contribution of the oil business to the New Mexico economy.
That's not to say that the state won't attempt to respect Santa Fe's ordinances. But it means that if the city becomes difficult, it loses.
And Santa Fe is well known for being difficult. Builders, business owners and homeowners often have suggested that Santa Fe's nickname should be changed from the City Different to the City Difficult.
Santa Fe has its own commuter train project, redeveloping the old Santa Fe Railway yards into a mixed-use transit hub -- the same thing the state is proposing about a mile down the tracks.
The city had fiddled around with the project for the better part of 10 years, designing a master plan, creating a public corporation to run it and then second-guessing enough of the corporation's actions to keep the project at a near standstill.
State government has been involved with the city's project too, since it had a big chunk of federal transportation money that it wanted to use for a transit hub. Discussions proceeded so slowly that the state finally issued an ultimatum that it would either take over the entire project or get out completely.
The city replied that it would become the owner and the state could operate its train into the station, but that was it.
It just so happens that the railroad tracks coming into Santa Fe go right through 25 acres of state property on which the state Transportation Headquarters is located, not far from downtown Santa Fe.
It is prime property, on Cerrillos Road, Santa Fe's main drag. The governor was correct in guessing that it would be attractive to developers. Several dozen showed up for a question and answer session last week.
What's the governor trying to do? Both projects envision commercial and residential uses. The state's differs in that it would be a public-private partnership, with the land being leased by the successful bidder. And the state would get a new Transportation Department building out of it.
The governor is talking in terms of the state's development being the termination of the commuter train, a mile short of the city railyard.. And he wants it finished by the spring of 2008.
What the city railyard development will look like by then is anyone's guess. But a good guess may be that it won't look much different than it does now.
Disagreements with its development corporation have reached the point that the corporation has threatened quit. That may not happen, but the corporation's director says she is quitting. That is sure to slow progress more.
It could be that Gov. Richardson is just trying to get the city on track. But he's an impatient guy, so we could have dueling railyards.
JAY MILLER, 3 La Tusa, Santa Fe, NM 87505
(ph) 982-2723, (fax) 984-0982, (e-mail) firstname.lastname@example.org