Feb. 23—In 1989, Albuquerque Pubic Schools approved a covenant variance to set aside the 13 acres it had purchased at Shady Oak Circle and North Zamora "for future development as an elementary school." But now, APS has decided that property should be a bus depot — without notifying taxpayers, neighbors or parents.
Local residents are rightly questioning why there has been no outreach to explain a depot project on the site, capable of accommodating 50 buses with an 80-space parking lot. APS says it would save money because buses now maintained in Albuquerque would be closer to East Mountain routes.
In fact, in November 2019, voters approved a $290 million mill levy and bond package for APS construction projects that included three school bus depots, including one in the East Mountains. But nowhere did it say where in the East Mountains the depot would be located.
Now residents in the rural, scenic area are worried about fuel and chemical leaks contaminating their aquifer, light and noise pollution, devalued property and traffic congestion from dozens of buses going back and forth to the depot every day. Daniel Dunn says residents moved to the quiet community "to get away from things like bus depots."
Neighbors say they have researched other sites APS owns, including a 23-acre parcel at the Cedar Crest turnoff on I-40, where a bus depot would actually improve the neighborhood.
Kizito Wijenje, executive director of the APS Capital Master Plan Department, says that plot has been predetermined for a future high school. Ummm, like Shady Oak Circle and North Zamora was supposed to be for an elementary?
But most disturbing about the bus depot bait-and-switch is the lack of public outreach or notice — the failure to at least try to work with or listen to residents. Residents of the Rincon Loop neighborhood say they began getting suspicious last fall when they saw drones circling the 13-acre field, then in January when people began collecting core samples.
"It just blindsided us," Allyson Laing told the Journal. "And I can tell you, nobody wants it here."
Resident Amy Owen told the Journal "I found out (about the project) on (the) nextdoor (app), and that's kind of sad." Indeed. Wijenje told the Journal APS officials didn't reach out to neighbors because they didn't know whom to contact. That's atrocious and arrogant in these times of online learning — how about an alert on the APS website or on social media? Or going old-school and putting up a poster in the neighborhood?
Wijenje dismissed concerns for aesthetics, noting a county transfer station is across the interstate from the neighborhood and a state Department of Transportation storage facility is to the west. But neither is as close to nor has the impact on this neighborhood the depot would.
Neighbors also wonder how APS can locate a bus depot on land zoned "rural agricultural." Wijenje explains because APS is its own quasi-government, it doesn't have to abide by zoning regulations. That's convenient.
Lesson for APS: It's your secrecy and sense of entitlement that stick in taxpayers' and neighbors' craw. Neighbors are trying to stop the depot construction not only by hiring an attorney, but by grass-roots communicating, launching a petition with more than 500 signatures and forming a web page, phone tree and nextdoor site to share information.
Many East Mountain residents say they feel lucky to have found their mountain retreat, with clusters of cedar, juniper and piñon dotting the hillsides. Anyone seeking to alter that should have to justify the changes, and APS didn't even try. Going forward, APS needs to stomp the brakes on this project so it can work with the community on possible alternatives.
This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.