City urged to act on housing

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By David Giuliani

The city demolished the old public housing development along Mills Avenue a couple of years ago.

Nothing has replaced it, but Santa Fe businessman Frank Koppler wants to change that.

He spoke to the City Council last week about reviving plans to put affordable housing on the site. He wants to pick up where the city left off with such a project a couple of years ago.

In 2005, the City Council agreed to go ahead with a public-private partnership with Farmington-based JL Gray Co. to build low-income housing on four acres of the old 18-acre Rio Gallinas housing subdivision.

The project would have been funded by a tax credit program, but the state agency declined to give the city an extension in 2007. The city needed the extension because it was late in demolishing the old subdivision.

Since then, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has asked that the city’s housing authority hold off on any new projects until it can get out of troubled status, a designation it has had since 2005.

The Albuquerque architectural firm, Dekker-Perich-Sabatini, spent $250,000 on the plans for the now-defunct low-income housing project, known as the Santa Fe Trail Apartments, Koppler told the council.

That development would include 60 apartments, built in the early Victorian style.

“This project is at the point where the building permit could be secured. It’s shovel-ready,” said Koppler, who was with Ronald Witherspoon of the Dekker firm.

He said it’s imperative that the city act quickly so it can get federal stimulus funds. But he said he doesn’t want his firm to have any inside track over others, requesting that the city undergo a formal request-for-proposals process.

Koppler said he understood HUD’s directive for delay, but he said he didn’t see that as an impediment to issuing the request for proposals.

Robert Pacheco, the city housing’s director, said HUD still considers the local housing authority troubled. City officials said the authority won’t be able to escape that status for at least another nine or 10 months.

“Until HUD is comfortable, it isn’t going to approve any new development,” Pacheco said.

Koppler said his partner in the project is Sen. Phil Griego, D-San Jose, and that the two of them have met with city officials and Floyd Duran, HUD’s top official in New Mexico.

Kopper acknowledged outside the council meeting that his firm would have an advantage in the request-for-proposals process because it has access to Dekker’s plans.

Witherspoon said his firm wanted to recover the money it had spent so far, noting that it did the work as a result of a signed agreement with the city.

“We’ve paid our consultants who helped with the plans, but we haven’t been paid yet,” he said.

City Manager Timothy Dodge said he would like to examine the options for the vacant property. He asked if the council had any objections to such a review.

No one did.