Editorial: Commission right to OK Santolina plan sans TIDD

June 19, 2015


By Albuquerque Journal Editorial Board June 19, 2015

Three members of the Bernalillo County Commission did the right thing in approving zoning and other regulations to guide a planned mixed-use development on 22 square miles atop the West Mesa, near 118th and Interstate 40.

The alternatives were either another squatter village à la Pajarito Mesa or expensive court fights over landowner rights in which projects get done anyway without public input, but with large payments of public money to the developers (see defunct equestrian center in Taylor Ranch, $136,500; Hinkle Family Fun Center, $1.5 million; and ABQ Uptown, $11 million).

And all five commissioners were right to ensure this master-plan approval doesn’t commit taxpayers to picking up the tab for financing or subsidizing the greenfield development. Tax increment development districts, or TIDDs, are financing tools that deserve closer examination as critics contend they unfairly shift the burden for providing public services (such as roads, schools, police and fire) to the sections of a community that are already paying their fare share.

Proponents, including the Santolina development team, argue TIDDs help drive a project’s economic development, getting things built sooner rather than later. Opponents, including Greg LeRoy at national nonprofit Good Jobs First, argue residential rooftops don’t drive economic development and that incentives like TIDDs simply encourage bidding wars for projects that would be built anyway under proper market conditions.

And so commissioners were smart to separate what will undoubtedly be a contentious debate on public tax incentives – if or when such a proposal comes up – from a master-planned development for a large swath of undeveloped metro area that’s minutes from Downtown.

The commission will consider a development agreement outlining specific requirements for Delaware-based property owner Western Albuquerque Land Holdings LLC on Wednesday. Considering the project could take 50 years to build out, it’s important the county continues to take a reasoned and informed approach that protects taxpayers – not only from bad development decisions, but from bad government decisions as well.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.