By Austin Fisher | Original Article
Nov. 1, 2018

New Mexico planners named the city of Española’s 2017 Comprehensive Plan, “Española: Beyond Boundaries,” the best comprehensive plan in the state for its attempt to actually address the needs of the Española Valley.

The Española plan scored higher than those submitted by Albuquerque Public Schools, the city of Las Vegas and the city of Lovington, American Planning Association-New Mexico Executive Board President Erick Aune said.

Española City Councilor Dennis Salazar, City Planning Director Alison Gillette, City Manager Kelly Duran and Española Mayor Javier Sanchez accepted the award for best comprehensive plan in New Mexico. (Photo by Austin Fisher)

 

“The city of Española’s public input and engagement process was above and beyond,” Aune said in an Oct. 25 telephone interview. “It wasn’t just your typical land use, infrastructure, and demographic analysis in saying, ‘Here’s the baseline of what we have in the community.’ It really looked at community needs and engaged the public in that realm.”

That public feedback began in November 2016 with a community meeting on the second floor of Anthony’s at the Delta, where the majority of about 40 locals said they are proud of their community in Española, but the city was not as good a place to live as it could be, and business, as usual would not transform it into the community they want to see.

Most said Española did not have a clear set of priorities and did not have enough resources to meet the city’s challenges it will face in the coming years.

Then over the following year, the public, led by a 29-person Steering Committee, helped write, criticize and edit the Plan through in-person meetings and online.

About every six weeks over that year, consultants with Park-City, Utah-based consulting firm Integrated Planning & Design met with the Committee and city officials. On average, 20 Committee members attended every meeting, Thomas Eddington, planning and design principal for the company, said in an Oct. 26 telephone interview.

“We’re proud of the work we did, but the community should be proud of its work, and keep this plan alive,” Eddington said. “I think the community is ready to do that.”

The company’s contract with the city government was worth $144,500. He said his company hopes to soon make changes to the city’s zoning code as one way to implement the Plan.

The Plan states that by 2027, city officials must implement five priorities to correct issues like disinvestment from the city’s downtown area on the West Side and a general lack of economic opportunity for the city’s people.

“These planners who came in, not with the idea of laying their good ideas on anybody, but they went to great effort to listen to as many people as they could, and that plan is based on listening,” Steering Committee Member Satguru Khalsa told city councilors Oct. 23. “We gotta be careful that we don’t mess up what everybody said, and it’s a plan by all of us, and they went to great lengths to listen. It’s a plan by all of us, and it was a gentle approach.”

Not including people who worked for the city at the time, the Committee comprised 29 people, including co-chairs Brian Thompson, who later became a city planning commissioner, and Brenda Romero, administrator at Española Hospital.

The previous comprehensive plan was created 15 years ago, City Manager Kelly Duran said.

“This plan is the voice of the community,” Duran said. “Now, any plan is useless if it sits on the shelf collecting dust.”

In a March 2017 survey conducted as part of the research for the plan, 73 percent of the 230 respondents said they would support a bond measure to finance $5 million in improvements to the city center on the West Side, over the next 10 years.

The bond measure would equal about $10 per month in additional property taxes for each family or household.

The Plan states the Plaza de Española and its surroundings should be used for local gathering spots, specialized or local retail stores, new affordable housing or city offices.

Since the new city administration was elected, that last suggestion has become a priority: a request for $7.3 million to help pay for a new city hall near the Plaza is number one on the City Council’s wish list for state