Santa Fe Area Home Builders Association
2520 Camino Entrada Unit B,
Santa Fe, New Mexico 87507
505.982.1774
Fax: 505.982.0238
Miles D. Conway
Executive Officer
Tanya Dorame
Administrative Manager

Associations Call for ‘Renovation’ at City Hall

Op-ed published in the Santa Fe New Mexican – June 29, 2024

 

Santa Fe Chapter, American Institute of Architects

Santa Fe Area Home Builders Association 

New Mexico Roofing Contractors Association

Santa Fe Association of Realtors

Build on improvements in land use department Land Use Working Group Calls for "Renovation" at City Hall

The recent resignation of Santa Fe’s Planning and Land Use Department Director is an opportunity to make further renovations in Department operations, and improve service to the public and building & design community.


The Land Use Working Group has enjoyed four years of positive collaborative work and relationship building with the Department. While laying a solid foundation, we have yet to fundamentally alter outcomes – permitting takes a long time, communication challenges persist, and processes for getting permits remain confusing.  The consequences of these stumbles are lost opportunities for quality housing & commercial development, and higher construction costs being passed on to homebuyers and renters alike.


Most citizens of Santa Fe are not aware of what the Department does and how crucial their work is for the evolution and preservation of our City, until they need a permit. Only then do they experience what working design and construction professionals see every day.


Planning and Land Use is a large and complex department impacting our City in countless ways, including the cost and availability of housing. One strategy to bring down housing costs (that the City can control) is working toward elimination of delays and confusion in the process, benefiting everyone.


These are the challenges we face – talented staff are difficult to retain, antiquated methods for operating the Department are deeply entrenched and hard to change, and the difficulties of navigating Planning and Land Use Department processes create hesitation for professionals to take on projects inside city limits. Some members of our Associations find it increasingly easier to operate their businesses and practice their craft by seeking work outside city limits in the County or nearby cities. 


Under Director Kluck’s tenure with the support of City leaders, there have been positive moves forward.  Third Party Plan Check, where a third-party contractor assists in the review of permit applications, has shown good potential to move things through the system more speedily.


Electronic Plan Review, eliminating the paper blizzard in the Department, is gaining traction and is funded as a priority for the Department.

Recent and ongoing work to revise the Land Use Code and the General Plan are extremely important, and long overdue.


As the City moves to hire a director, here are a few suggestions.  If made a priority, then a new Director will have a clearer roadmap and better toolkit with which to serve:

  • Provide Over-the-Counter permits for simple applications: Re-roofing, window replacements, stucco, fences, portals – all these currently require onerous permit processes that frustrate trade professions and the public. Collateral impacts include an increase in the amount of UNPERMITTED work among unscrupulous professionals or desperate homeowners trying to seal their roofs before a monsoon hits. This leads to lost economic revenue for the City and presents public safety risks. 
  • Emphasize Staff Support. More staff training on systems and codes will benefit the Department. Funding for key PLUD staff positions could make tools like Third Party Plan Review and Electronic Plan Review work the way they’re intended to and would bring the Department further into the 21st century, like many cities in our State.

  • Develop performance standards with targeted timelines for staff when reviewing permit applications. This seemingly obvious tactic would give the public reasonable expectations for timely delivery of permits and members of the design and construction industries more certainly on the feasibility to take on new projects.

  • Creating a written Code Interpretation Book will bring a refreshing degree of clarity to the community. While some codes are rigid and clear, many building or zoning codes are ambiguous and up to the interpretation of staff and permit applicants. Today, the City may offer different interpretations of codes when there are staff changes. This fosters chaos and uncertainty in the community and increases costs.
  • Create a written Appeals Process. Permit applicants need a clearer process for how to move forward when there is a stalemate over code interpretation. A formal process to resolve differences of interpretation, in a timely manner, will foster greater equity and accountability in the system.

  • Re-Build a culture where permit applicants are treated as clients, revenue engines supporting the local economy, and allies in the effort to build our city’s future. The people who use the services of the Department are not an inconvenience, they are the reason the Department exists.


With these priorities in place, our new and our current interim Director will know they have the backing of City leadership. They will enjoy more certainty and have a better functioning toolset with which to lead our Planning and Land Use Department into the future. Finally, they’ll be able to respond more effectively to the worst housing crisis in Santa Fe’s memory.


As always, the Land Use Working Group is ready to help in every way possible.


Signed,

Glenn Erikson AIA

2024 President, Santa Fe Chapter, American Institute of Architects

Joshua Shultz, Zachary & Sons Homes

2024 President, Santa Fe Area Home Builders Association, affiliated with the National Association of Home Builders

Tim Davis, J3 Systems

2024 President, New Mexico Roofing Contractors Association

Joshua Maes
2024 Santa Fe Association of REALTORS® President

About the group

The Santa Fe Land Use Working Group is composed of representatives from the Santa Fe Area Home Builders Association, the Santa Fe Chapter of the American Institute of Architects, the New Mexico Roofing Contractors Association and the Santa Fe Association of Realtors.

The goal of its work is to shorten wait times for plan and permit approvals and inspections by:

  • Seeing policies implemented and information shared that improves efficiency.
  • Helping to identify, target and support funding for needed resources within the city budget.
  • Being allies in implementing and training on new technologies and protocols that improve the overall system.