Implementing the recently adopted Santa Fe County Sustainable Land Development Code


by Dan Pava, AICP

In October, the Santa Fe Reporter ran an article about the challenges of implementing the recently adopted Santa Fe County Sustainable Land Development Code

I read the Reporter article with interest as a newly minted member of the city’s Sustainable Santa Fe Commission. The commission is completing a draft sustainability plan that could lead to changes in our city codes at some point, and the entire 37 square miles of the City of Santa Fe is surrounded by Santa Fe County which extends for 1,900 square miles in all directions. Approximately half of the county’s residents live within the city limits of Santa Fe, while other communities in the county are small, exurban, rural, agricultural and spread far and wide. So while there are similarities, there are also big differences of context and scale.  The article can be found at

Subsequently, I wrote a letter to the editor that I thought worthy of sharing with my Western Planner colleagues. It is reprinted below. I think it is important for planners to be working on sustainability plans because we have the right skill set to facilitate such important community efforts. Planners can draw on their education and experience to make these plans better and implement them effectively, efficiently and equitably (search the web for Triple Bottom Line).
Here is what I wrote – actually I wrote a bit more detail about the Nolan and Dolan SCOTUS decisions, but that was edited out for lack of space. Nevertheless, I got a call from the reporter who wanted to interview me about my time serving on the Planning Commission and now the Sustainable Santa Fe Commission. He is working on an article about the realities of public service. I look forward to responding to that story, in due course.

Realities on the Ground
The first and ultimate test of sustainability must be legality. Matt Grubs' article is important reading for all of us who want to foster sustainability in Santa Fe County and within the city limits as well. … Being a graduate of the UNM School of Community and Regional Planning and a resident of Northern New Mexico for 35 years, I have come to appreciate Territorial Governor Lew Wallace's maxim, "All calculations based on experience elsewhere fail in New Mexico."
Whether we are adopting a subdivision or zoning ordinance, or a sustainable land development code, it is imperative that it be implemented in a realistic, fair, equitable and consistent manner. In the Santa Fe area, there are many private roads serving small subdivisions. It is an artifact of land ownership and subdivision unique to this area. When a citizen/property owner requests a permit to modify their home, it is reasonable to request a proportionate improvement to these private roads. After all, you don't get what you don't pay for. There is a difference between a garage addition and constructing several new homes. The key here is that there be a request that is fair (proportionate) and consistent with the adopted policy.

There will always be a creative tension balancing the rights of the individual and those of the commons. Sustainability codes must be implemented in a way that does not create a taking, provides just compensation if warranted, and is proportional to the request. In each case for permit review, we must ask if there is an "essential nexus" between the permit conditions and legitimate state interest, and whether or not the degree of the exactions required by the permit condition bears the required relationship to the projected impact of the proposed development. If variances are frequently required or suggested by staff as a remedy, then the code and implementing regulations should be reviewed and revised to reflect the realities on the ground in Santa Fe County.

Dan Pava
Sustainable Santa Fe Commission

Sustainable Santa Fe Commission

The Sustainable Santa Fe Commission (SSFC) is a volunteer citizen advisory commission charged with advising Santa Fe's Governing Body on sustainability-related programs, projects and policies. Resolution 2015-57 charges the SSFC with supporting the City's Renewable Energy Planner with the development of a 25-year Sustainability Plan for Santa Fe that addresses renewable energy, energy efficiency, land use, water use, carbon emission reduction efforts, and other areas of sustainability, to achieve the city's goal of being carbon neutral by 2040. For information about the 25-year plan, please visit

Dan Pava, AICP is president-elect of Western Planner. He has practiced environmental planning primarily in New Mexico, Oregon and California over his 35 year career. Prior to serving on the Sustainable Santa Fe Commission, Pava was on the Planning Commission and the Santa Fe Railyard Development Review Committee.

Published in the December 2017 Issue

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