U.S. Water News Online
SANTA FE-- A developer has sued Santa Fe over an ordinance
that requires developers to transfer water rights to the city before
obtaining a building permit.
The lawsuit, filed in federal court by Tierra Contenta Corp.,
seeks to restrict the city from enforcing the ordinance against
developments in Tierra Contenta. It is the first court challenge of
the ordinance since it passed in July 2005.
The developers also seek unspecified damages for delays caused by
the water transfer ordinance, said Tierra Contenta's attorney, Mark
City Attorney Frank Katz said he read the lawsuit but could not
The lawsuit contends Tierra Contenta is not subject to the
ordinance because Santa Fe agreed in the 1990s to supply water for
the project when the city annexed the land.
"We're not claiming that we're entitled to an exemption; we're
saying that we're not subject to it in the first instance," Ish said.
Mayor David Coss, who said he was disappointed that yearlong
negotiations with the developer failed, rejected the idea that the
annexation agreement meant Tierra Contenta did not have to follow
water rights transfer requirements.
James Hicks, executive director of Tierra Contenta Corp., said the
ordinance does not work well for such large-scale projects and
contended it was not possible to buy enough water. Tierra Contenta
spokeswoman Kyla Thompson said she didn't know of a developer who had
been able to comply with the ordinance.
But Santa Fe's lead water attorney, Kyle Harwood, said the city
has approved the transfer of about 135 acre feet of water rights in
the past year and is reviewing 100 acre feet more. An acre-foot,
about 326,000 gallons, can meet the annual water needs of one to two
"If Tierra Contenta is alleging that no one can go out there and
find any water rights, they're wrong," Harwood said.
Hicks also contends the ordinance threatens the developer's
ability to build affordable housing. Buying water rights and
transferring them to the city could cost $4 million to $8 million,
which would be passed along to homebuyers, he said.
The company has built about 1,900 homes on about 70 percent of the
land slated for development, Hicks said. An additional 2,000 housing
units -- a mix of single-family, attached and apartment homes --
could be developed in the coming decade.
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