El Rio project: ‘Economic genocide’ or rejuvenation?

Plans for the 399-unit El Rio development on Agua Fría Street. Courtesy image

On the surface, it’s hard to see why a proposed 399-unit apartment complex that would clean up and develop 16 acres of land could cause such a stir. The proposal by Tierra Concepts for the El Rio apartment complex at the former site of the nonprofit Ecoversity calls for millions of dollars in new housing aimed at attracting young professionals from an award-winning local builder in a city that is short on in-town rentals.

The tensions over the city’s first large apartment project since the end of the recession underscores a long-running debate about growth in Santa Fe and what the city owes its next generation. As the city has continually sprawled southward, the El Rio proposal and the fierce opposition to it expose the difficulty of building affordable housing closer to the city’s core while still honoring the character and livability of existing neighborhoods.

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Based on the need for more housing and infill, the city staff members support El Rio and encourage the City Council to approve it. Their recommendation states the project will start to fill the need for more rental housing and improve the area, “which is a blight with a sand and mining business that has left behind unsightly rusted inoperable moving equipment, tanks, mobile home structures and mounds of gravel.”

One of those was Werwath, who eventually withdrew his name from consideration after his appointment drew sharp criticism. The other was Vince Kadlubek, who had been the first person to speak in favor of El Rio. Kadlubek is a founding member of the Meow Wolf artist collective, which is redeveloping the old Silva Lanes bowling alley building into a performance art cooperative. The project is not far from El Rio.

What: Santa Fe City Council’s public hearing on 399-unit El Rio apartment complex in the Agua Fría area.

Where: Santa Fe Community Convention Center

When: 7 p.m. Wednesday, June 24

Projected population growth rates, Santa Fe County

Median age of population (2013)

Mean travel time to work

Median housing sales price: city of Santa Fe (2013), $289,000

Median household income: $47,348

+4 City Council denies El Rio apartment proposal

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