Mesa del Sol - Urban Living on a Grand Scale
For many years we watched with dismay as Albuquerque developed, creating a city of car dependent suburban sprawl rooftops, and not communities and neighborhoods. Then we learned that plans were moving forward to develop Mesa del Sol, the 12,500 acre (5,060 hectare) grassland mesa just south of the Sunport airport. We contacted the folks at the New Mexico State Land Office (SLO), owner of the land, to learn more about their thinking and to view their plans.
In the next few years, the plans evolved leading to an agreement between the SLO and Forest City Covington (FCC), a world class real estate development company, by which FCC would become the Master Developer of a planned community, and would also establish the La Semilla Nature Reserve on 2,800 acres (1,130 hectares) along the Mesa's east side.
FCC brought in urbanist Peter Calthorpe to create an innovative and implementable Master Plan inspired by the Land Office's conceptual plan and the principles of New Urbanism and sustainability. The resulting plan was approved by the City of Albuquerque in January, 2006.
The Master Plan for Mesa del Sol envisions a sustainable New Urban community offering a broad mix of housing, from 'affordable' work force models to larger, higher priced homes, pleasantly intermingled. The street system will be a grid - no cul de sacs here! Parking will be on street or "alley loaded" which means the garages are in back along alleys so no garage doors dominate the street. As you walk along the sidewalk, you'll see porches in front of the houses so that the residents can sit and greet the neighbors walking by.
Major greenways with bike and walking trails will be aligned to keep the grand views of the Sandias, Manzanos and the green valley of the Rio Grande unobstructed. Bike and pedestrian trails will be separated from streets, and traffic calming designs keep cars moving slowly and steadily. A school, a park and shops for daily needs will be clustered at intervals so that every home is within a walkable distance. Also within walking distance will be a transit stop - for circulator buses that connect with the Rail Runner Commuter Rail stations, Rapid Ride and Alvarado Transit Center downtown.
Home seekers in Albuquerque will welcome this new form of development. They have voiced their desire for more walkable neighborhoods in a survey conducted by the Indicators Progress Commission in 2006. Residents were asked if they would choose to live in a mixed use neighborhood where they could walk to stores, schools and services or a residential only neighborhood, where they must drive to stores, the majority, over 53%, preferred the walkable urban neighborhood.
We have followed closely the process that FCC has followed in the design of the Master Plan, and watched as construction has progressed. FCC has made substantial investments in the infrastructure at an early stage, delivering on the commitment to bring employment first.
During 2006, Advent Solar, Inc., a developer of advanced technology solar cells and modules, selected Mesa del Sol as the location for its plant and in November, they moved into the new LEEDŽ "Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design" certified building. For a few months Advent was alone on the mesa but soon, Albuquerque Studios, became the second tenant, developing 50 acres at Mesa del Sol including a 100,000 square foot Sony Pictures Imageworks digital production facility.
By 2008, the momentum had increased as Schott AG, a global leader in glass and optics and one of the largest solar technology manufacturers in the world, began construction of its 200,000 square foot manufacturing facility for Schott Solar, Inc., its wholly owned subsidiary, on 80 acres. Then, Fidelity Investments, one of the world's largest providers of financial services, chose Albuquerque's Mesa del Sol as the site of its 210,000 square foot operations center.
Construction of the first homes along with the mixed use Town Center will be built later in 2008. FCC is determined to include homes of many styles and in many price ranges in each neighborhood and to bring retail shops to provide for residents' daily needs nearby early in the process.
We feel that Mesa del Sol can provide a powerful alternative for home seekers who want to live where they can walk, bike and ride transit for many daily errands and trips. The employment opportunities will enable people to live and work there so car trips will be reduced. The open space will offer recreation opportunities nearby and most shopping needs can be met by bike or a walk along the greenway.
As Mesa del Sol develops, we anticipate that it will earn a high rating for People Friendliness and also be a catalyst for more People Friendly development throughout the city.