A "difficult area" in local government annexation plans could be revisited, along with other topics, when Santa Fe's city and county elected officials get together again this summer.
Territory outside the city and along its northwestern edge is slated to become part of the city by the end of next year, according to a 2008 agreement. But Mayor David Coss said he's heard that county officials want to keep that area in their jurisdiction.
County Commissioner Virginia Vigil said she thought it was city leaders who were making a push to alter the agreement for the 2,000 acres north of Agua Fría Road and east of the Agua Fría Traditional Historic Community.
The confusion is typical of the kind of discussions that happen in Santa Fe on the issue of annexation. As the region grows in population and more homes and businesses are developed, the question of what kind of rules need to be followed and where water and sewer services come from gets more important -- and more complicated.
The City Council and County Commission planned a joint meeting to restart annexation talks next month, but they canceled it last week after City Manager Robert Romero said half the council was unavailable. Now officials are shooting for a July date, he said.
Neither jurisdiction has held to the timeline it agreed to in the 4-year-old settlement. The largest area of land was supposed to be annexed last year, but the city has yet to file a petition to formalize it. Partly, that's because agreements about roads and utility services, and monetary transactions between the city and the county that might go along with them, have not yet materialized.
The city recently passed a resolution ordering staff to get a handle on unresolved annexation issues. Earlier this year, it also made public a financial analysis that indicated the city's costs to implement the annexation plan come with a recurring funding gap of more than $3 million.
For that reason and others, Coss said city councilors are more than willing to let some of the areas slated for a final phase wait.
"There is some city water and city sewer in that area, and it's where we told the county that whatever the county decides with the people, that will be great," Coss said. "If they want to stop Phase 3, that is fine with us."
Vigil noted that part of the Phase 3 annexation area includes residents who were vocally opposed to being part of the presumptive city limits. But cracking open the settlement means another round of arguing. "Frankly, that whole area is a cross-sectional shared service area anyway," she said, noting that no renegotiation of the annexation settlement should happen without new surveys of people who live in the affected areas.
Coss said he expects conflict no matter what the officials decide.
"It will become the same pattern that we have seen over the decades," he said. "Some landowners would love to develop at urban densities and redevelop and sell their property and get annexed to the city and get city water and sewer, and [there are] other landowners who like one house per 5 acres out there."
Coss called the checkerboard of jurisdictions near Agua Fría a "difficult area" for planning because of terrain and land-use practices.
Another group of elected leaders says they are also anxious to see the city and county get back to work on annexation.
William Henry Mee, president of the Agua Fría Village Association, said that while the village itself is protected from annexation because of its status as a "traditional historic community" under state law, its proximity to the city and its urban developments means city decisions and practices have a real impact there.
Mee said the association hopes officials pay more attention to the village soon. For one, he said, some residents in the village get city water, some have private wells and some are on a mutual domestic water association. The same is true for sewer service. Some people have it, some use septic. Documents circulated among city and county leaders during the 2008 talks featured misstatements about both services.
"They left us out under that settlement and annexation agreement," he said. "I guess they thought that the area was completely planned for, and there aren't full services in the area yet."
County staff members are supposed to handle road planning for the village and all the areas outside the presumptive city limits, he said, but there's been no recent action.
"As a county constituent, I would like the county to initiate some talks on this. And nothing has really happened," he said. "I think that it really needs to be done."
County Utilities Department Director Patricio Guerrerortiz said city and county staff have been working for two years on a plan to transfer city customers outside of the presumptive city limits to the county utility systems. That's in a holding pattern now because officials can't seem to agree on whether money needs to change hands.
Guerrerortiz said the county wants to take over the customers but doesn't want to pay the city for property that was developer-funded.
"There's not need for any cash exchange," he said, adding, "This was infrastructure that was placed by developers on land outside the city limits that was required by the city to serve water in this area. The city did not invest any money on those lines."
Residents of the Coyote Ridge subdivision are interested to learn that their territory might not be part of the presumptive city limits. The city's zoning designation opens the door for more dense development.
Sid Monroe, secretary of the Coyote Ridge Homeowners Association, says his neighbors have been in "no-man's land" since the annexation deal was signed. They're not in the city yet, but the county has treated them as such, he said. Meanwhile, no city services are available there, and the cost of installing water and sewer extensions makes that plan "a pipe dream," he said.
Monroe said most of the people who own property in the area want to see changes to the settlement agreement.
"We were always more in tune with staying in the county," he said. "We overwhelmingly would be excited to stay in the county."
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