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Black Ranch Appeal Update

A mixed result, or a partial success, would be a fair description of the Memorandum Opinion issued by Bernalillo County District Court Judge Wendy York on February 16, 2001. Judge York was deciding on a citizen coalition's appeal of the Albuquerque Bernalillo County Extraterritorial Land Use Authority's (ELUA) approval of the Black Ranch (now renamed Quail Ranch) Master Plan. Her decision was to uphold the ELUA's approval of the Quail Ranch Master Plan, though she also found that key portions of it had such weak supporting evidence as to require a full reevaluation at the next stage in the long-term land use decision-making process.

The Judge's decision addresses the approval of a "Level A" Master Plan, the first and most widely focused planning level, and usually the only formal review which considers the project as a whole under the guidelines provided in the existing Planned Communities Criteria (PCC). The next phase — "Level B" — can be more narrowly focused and consider only units or phases of the overall Master Plan. In this Level A decision, one of the issues the Judge had to decide was whether compliance with the PCC was required in order to get ELUA approval. The Quail Ranch attorney argued that the PCC didn't formally apply to their proposal. The coalition's attorney in turn argued that the ELUA had failed to adopt formal rules and procedures for its own actions, especially with regards to the PCC guidelines. The Judge found that the ELUA had specifically applied the PCC to the Quail Ranch application in this case, but avoided deciding on the role that the PCC should have in future ELUA decisions.

Deferring to the ELUA and Bernalillo County Planning staff statements, the Judge upheld the ELUA approval of the Ranch's Level A plan, referring to staff's statement that: "Level A approval is the big picture approval. It's the approval of the Planned Communities as a concept...It talks about generalities." At the same time, the Judge noted another staff statement that: "Issues have been raised by commenting agencies that are still unsettled and must be resolved at or before the time of Level B approval ..." and that Level A review is ".... of a qualitative nature with most of the quantitative information to come at the time of the Level B plan submittal."

While upholding the ELUA approval, the Judge stated that:

"[S]ome findings [within the ELUA approval] make conclusions that are not yet supported by the evidence, and some findings conflict with conditions that have been imposed. Although these findings are not necessary for Level A approval, and therefore not sufficient to reverse the approval, the findings must be disregarded and not utilized in the future by any party as evidence that substantial evidence has already been presented on that issue."

The decisions above means that some of the findings must still be fully addressed in the future, at or before the Level B phase can begin. These findings pertain to major questions such as: Water Supply Issues, Water and Sewer Facilities, Fiscal Impact Analysis, Compliance with the Albuquerque Bernalillo County Comprehensive Plan, and Development Agreements. In addition to these issues, the Judge also upheld the ELUA's need for additional requirements of Quail Ranch regarding comprehensive transportation planning needs, balance between jobs and housing within the Ranch, open space buffers around the Ranch and other matters. Although the coalition could have appealed on these matters, we decided to live with the decision and pursue these issues during the upcoming pre-Level B and Level B analysis phase.

Participants in the coalition — 1000 Friends of New Mexico, Greater Albuquerque Spokespeople, New Mexico Public Interest Research Group, Sage Council, and Southwest Research and Information Center — have been active in the Quail Ranch case since the mid-1990s. The Quail Ranch Master Plan proposes to develop a 6,500-acre portion of Albuquerque's West Mesa, west of the Petroglyph National Monument. Coalition members are concerned about the impact of Quail Ranch on the already overextended water resources, transportation systems, and infrastructure needs in existing communities. Quail Ranch also hopes to benefit from the proposed extension of the Paseo del Norte road through the Petroglyph National Monument, an area held sacred by many native peoples.

by Paul Robinson


  1. Land Use — includes activity centers, employment areas, residential areas, and open space, with an emphasize on the efficient use of resources: i.e. land, water, and energy.
  2. A Comprehensive Transportation System plan which identifies major travel corridors and considers multi-modal opportunities to facilitate walking, biking, and mass transit.
  3. Environment and Open Space — The identification of slopes, drainage, soils, vegetation, wildlife, hydrology, noise zones, recreation resources, and other characteristics which help define appropriate land use.
  4. Government and Public Services — infrastructure provisions for schools and parks, and other public facilities and services.


1000 Friends of New Mexico
1001 Marquette NW, Albuquerque, NM 87102
e-mail: lehua@1000friends-nm.org
Attn: Lehua Lopez-Mai

New Mexico Public Information Research Group (NMPIRG)
135 Harvard SE, Albuquerque, NM 87106
e-mail: Rmnmpirg@aol.com
Attn: Randy Moorman

Sage Council
P.O. Box 82086, Albuquerque, NM 87198
e-mail: sageconcil@mindspring.com
Attn: Sonny Weahkee

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"Federal policy…has been to assure that "waste management problems shall not be deferred to other generations," and many environmental groups have shared the same view. Geological burial - at first glance anyway - looks like an ideal way to accomplish that since, after all, it "removes" the wastes from the environment and solves the problem once and for all. But in many ways entombment does just the opposite. It deliberately poisons a portion of the natural world for an endless stretch of time and in doing so it not only leaves future generations with thousands of tons of the most dangerous rubbish imaginable on their hands but makes it as difficult as the state of our technology permits for them to deal with it. We cannot promise our children - never mind those who will follow hundreds or thousands of years hence - that they will be safe from the wastes. And so long as that is so, we are not taking the problem out of their hands so much as we are taking the solution out of their hands."
Kai Erikson in
"Out of Sight, Out of Our Minds"
The New York Times Magazine
March 6, 1994.

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