- Associated Press - Wednesday, March 25, 2015

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) - A hearing on the future of a planned community west of Albuquerque that developers say could someday be home to as many as 90,000 people drew dozens of opponents who feared the development would grab important water resources.

Arriving in tractors and holding protests signs, demonstrators crowded a Bernalillo County commissioners’ meeting Wednesday for the beginning of a two-day hearing to decide the fate of Santolina. That development would rival some of New Mexico’s largest cities once completed.

Spanning nearly 22-square miles, the development would be located along Interstate 40 and would have its own business parks and town centers.

It’s proposed at a time when some advocates have been pressing for more affordable housing around Albuquerque.

During the hearing, Bernalillo County officials told commissioners that water authorities believe there is enough water for the Santolina project, but planners would have to come up with conservation blueprints in the future.

“It’s something we anticipated and we can accommodate it,” said Jim Strozier, principal of Consensus Planning, a group hired by Santolina’s developer, Western Albuquerque Land Holdings.

But opponents say the plan could rob existing communities of water during the ongoing drought.

Loren Gomez, 41, a farmer in Albuquerque’s South Valley, said developers should invest inside Albuquerque rather than drain resources from the outskirts of the city.

“Why not invest in the South Valley?” Gomez said. “There are already families here.”

Marcia Fernandez, president of the Foothill Neighborhood Association, said those who oppose Santolina aren’t against new development but want it planned well.

“We believe in appropriate growth in the appropriate place,” Fernandez said. “We don’t need to start a new city on a hill and dig up 1,000-year-old sand dunes.”

The website, santolinanm.com, set up by developer Western Albuquerque Land Holdings, says Santolina meets all the standards for expected water conservation.

In addition, Western Albuquerque Land Holdings said the new development complies with a requirement that it must generate revenues equal to or greater than expenses incurred by the county. Proponents also say it would bring jobs to the area.

The developer has said about 4,000 acres would be set aside for economic development and employment opportunities.

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