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Park Ridge beats rezoning appeal

Change assures development backers
By Todd G. Dickson posted at The Las Cruces Bulletin

With only one city councilor voting against it, the Park Ridge boomer medical community development won approval Monday, Aug. 19, for rezoning a key 30 acres of the 110 acres of the former Las Cruces Country Club.

Bob Pofahl, a developer working with the country club organization to redevelop the property, said the rezoning was critical for continuing work on the costly design and engineering process for a planned unit development (PUD) approval for the whole property and for securing a 42-bed, single-floor boutique hospital.

Because the City Council was acting in a quasi-judicial role in hearing the appeal to the Planning and Zoning Commission’s conditional approval of the rezoning, councillors were cautioned about keeping the discussion to the merits of the zoning approval.

Councillor Olga Pedroza, however, said there have been questions over the legality of the proposed hospital. Pofahl responded by saying the Park Ridge proposal is a very expensive venture with multiple investors, all of whom would not be putting money in it if it was not legal.

George Lohman, from Colorado Springs, who is part of the finance group lining up investors, said the project is attracting interest because Pofahl and his wife, Karen, are highly credible people. There are seven equity funds lined up to help finance the project and all have done their own due diligence review to see if the project was worthy of investment.

The portion of the country club that would house the hospital encompasses 23.44 acres rezoned to a high-commercial use, with 7.31 acres next to it rezoned to a commercialresidential use for assisted-living housing. Currently, the country club is zoned for singleresidential use, limiting even the housing potential to one home for the entire 110 acres.

Susana Montana of the community development department said the developers agreed to create a 40-foot green space buffer and additional building setbacks to provide the existing townhouses nearby a total 80foot setback. Conditions set for the rezoning include conducting a traffic impact analysis and providing a second access road. If work isn’t begun on the 30 acres within two years, the rezoning expires.

Councillors were told to evaluate the rezoning on questions of whether the Park Ridge development would promote the health, safety and general welfare, mitigate congestion and be a major positive change to the neighborhood.

Pofahl said he and the partners in the effort want to make the property vibrant again and see the neighborhood reinvigorated. Park Ridge would be a community within the city, he said, offering a continuum of care “designed to serve a booming boomer market coming to our community.”

After holding more than 10 community meetings, Pofahl said he believes that 90 to 95 percent of the surrounding residents favor the proposal, with 833 signed petitions supporting the project. He said he and his team have made constant revisions in response to various concerns raised.

Robert Caldwell, president of the Las Cruces Country Club Association that still owns the property, said the group has had to sell its water rights to pay off debts and must now sell the property in order to survive and exist as part of the Sonoma Ranch Golf Course operation. The decision was not easy, he said, because the country club has played a strong role in the lives of residents since 1928.

“We’re never going to see that picture again,” Caldwell said in reference to a 1970s postcard of a green country club that was still on the outer edge of a much smaller city. “Folks, we got to move on.”

One of the main positions from opposition to Park Ridge is skepticism over the community needing a third hospital.

Denton Park, CEO of MountainView Regional Medical Center, said his hospital and Memorial Medical Center (MMC) provide about 400 beds to the community with about half of those beds always unfilled because of the changes in health care that have made hospital stays shorter – or even discouraged hospital stays. While MountainView is not opposed to growth or the idea of competition, he questioned the need for another hospital. Dr. Edward Sweetser, a surgeon in Las Cruces, agreed, saying another hospital could even hurt the future viability of the city’s older hospital, MMC. Eva Booker, speaking for the Country Club Neighborhood Association (CCNA), formed in 2006 when the country club was put up for sale, disputed the charge that her group only wants the city to acquire the country club to expand the neighboring Apodaca Park. She said the development should be a PUD under the city code ordinance. Without the restrictions of a PUD, the developers can build other things with the denser commercial zoning.

Booker said the association’s concerns have been ignored as the developers had more resources to win rezoning by turning it into a popularity contest. She urged the council to not “be hoodwinked or bamboozled.”

Sharon White, a home and business owner in the area, said the city has been able to successfully absorb the addition of new hospitals since the first one was built in 1950.

Rick Jensen, townhouse owner and medical business owner, said he believed in Park Ridge’s innovative approach to health care for baby boomers. He said constructing the medicalcampus alone will create more than 500 jobs and that it would add to a greater variety of living options that would eventually attract more people to the city.

Tamie Smith, a Las Cruces resident, said she was concerned about the new hospital’s proposed heliport, considering there is a school and an apartment complex in the area, as well as high traffic on North Main Street and Solano Drive.

Hector Maestas, who owns a townhouse next to the country club, said the process has been transparent and would likely enhance property values for those who live near and surround the property.

Local architect Steve Newby said Park Ridge is the best example he’s seen of the kind of smart growth and sustainable development the City Council wants to see in the city.

After reviewing the fine print of the zoning code, Pedroza said she agreed a PUD wasn’t required for the zone change at this point of the project.

Mayor Pro Tem Sharon Thomas said she understood that the Park Ridge developers could only bring investors in so far without more confidence in the zoning needed to make the project a success.

Councillors Nathan Small, Gill Sorg and Greg Smith said the developers have responded to major concerns and that the new use for the now barren golf course would be a benefit. Mayor Ken Miyagishima said Park Ridge would greatly improve the neighborhood.

Councillor Miguel Silva was the lone vote against Park Ridge because of the concerns about traffic and the possible adverse effect on the other two hospitals. Nor was he convinced that the property could never be used as a country club again, or as a park. “I’m not comfortable in changing something that still could be something,” he said.

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