Preserving the Poole Property for All of Us
A Discussion with Dr. Susan Chaudoir
If you wish to see the Poole property and the San Antonio Oxbow Wetland for yourself, take the short drive to the end of Namaste Road where there is parking. Walk up a slight rise on the path to the right and over to the open wooden fence, where you can look down on the San Antonio Oxbow Wetland and view the Poole property on the left.
Dr. Susan Chaudoir arrived in Albuquerque in 2016 after several years in Scotland and Canada doing academic research. Most of her research was done in Scotland, while attending and teaching at the University of Edinburgh which has a vibrant environmental education program. The program and her research have formed her professional and personal life. The Scots, she told me, have an innate connection to their history, culture and identity which ensures they value their land, cherishing and preserving it. Native American nations share the same sense of their land.
After returning to the US in 2016, Susan decided to visit New Mexico, where she found a landscape of immense beauty, and people with a rich cultural heritage and a deep connection to place. She decided to stay longer than her original planned two weeks and began exploring the area on foot. A walk on the West Side to the Rio Grande Bosque took her past the San Antonio Oxbow Wetland and the Poole property, which borders the Wetland on the north.
The Wetland is a rare marsh area on the banks of the Rio Grande, filled with birds and wildlife, and protected by the Albuquerque Open Space and an important part of the Middle Rio Grande ecosystem. She was immediately struck by the beauty of the Poole property and its connection to the health of the Oxbow Wetland. She joined groups of like-minded nature lovers to study New Mexico’s outdoors and met people who were equally passionate about the landscape, heritage, animals and birds of the Albuquerque area. They shared what they knew of the history and status of the Poole property.
Close friends say that Suzanne Poole and her husband Rufus originally owned 388 acres, bought from the Joe Taylor family, on the West Side between St. Pius X High School, Montano Road, and the Rio Grande. The original La Luz development was built on their property and the Pooles worked closely with renowned architects George Pearl and Antoine Predock to create something that was integrated into the land. Suzanne, who lived on a 23-acre homestead, now known as the Poole property, wished to protect it as a public amenity. If that was not possible, she foresaw development but she wanted it limited to five houses total. She understood the importance of those 23 acres due to their location next to the Oxbow Wetland, in effect protecting that sensitive area, but also with their own beauty stemming from proximity to the Rio Grande and majestic panoramic views of the Sandia Crest, Manzano Mountains, and Sangre de Cristo Mountains. After her death, however, the property was sold to a local businessman, who decided to develop it.
Advocates who support protecting the property believe the current planned development is in no way respectful of the beauty of the property. The first proposal called for 76 cluster homes located on property’s 23 acres. West Siders began to organize after the plan was presented. They realized that the development would destroy a beautiful piece of land and threaten the existence of the San Antonio Oxbow Wetland. The City Council questioned this first proposal and it went back to the developer who made some changes and dropped the number of houses to 69. That change in no way changed the determination of the opposition, which now included residents from all over Albuquerque. They unified to protect this very special area – prevent the construction of a mediocre development with no respect for the beauty or ecological value of the land, obtain the land and amalgamate it into the Rio Grande Valley State Park, so that all Albuquerque can enjoy it and the wetland next door. It would be an irreplaceable gift for the people of this city and New Mexico.
Susan has been one of the leaders of the fight, ably supported by a dedicated group of citizens who have spent countless hours of personal time and money to protest the development and make the Poole property rescue a reality. They have sat through countless hearings, written countless letters and contributed money, to date $40,000, to fight this fight. This is a determined effort waged by citizens of Albuquerque who value the natural and cultural history that makes this exceptional city so unique. When I asked Susan what motivated her to continue, she quoted the poet Maya Angelou “I come as one but I stand as 10,000,” because she knows she is voicing the concerns of many, many local citizens.
Thus far, the major impediment to this large local movement has been the City of Albuquerque planning process. The process designates planning staff and an appointed Environmental Planning Commission to judge the merits of a development. The staff are professionals, people who have planning credentials and experience, but it has been clear from the beginning that developers and citizens are dealt with differently. Developers and their staff are treated like valued clients. Citizens who oppose the development, who live here, pay taxes and vote here are treated like outsiders – people whose voices do not count. Members of planning staff who, after careful analysis, have questioned aspects of this particular development have been ignored or denigrated. The City Council and some elected officials seem to disregard the opinions of citizens and question planning staff recommendations when they counter developer’s wishes. The issue here is an old one – private interest vs. public good.
Susan and the other citizens involved see the effort to save the Poole property not as a single issue but as a chance for Albuquerque officials to re-think their current approach to the development process as a whole and particularly to West Side development. The West Side was and, in some ways, still is a blank canvas. Yet, the intangible values of the West Side, the sweeping mountain and bosque views which are so much a part of our city, are being erased by a race to build cheap, unnecessary retail or fast-food restaurants on prime real estate and ugly buildings that violate current zoning and infringe upon those views. Citizens are fighting the fight but must be included as a deliberative part of the land-use planning process along with city officials whose input is important, but should not be authoritative.
Last year, Susan reached out to State Senator Jacob Candelaria about the Poole property issue and her proposed solution, which was to purchase the property. She invited him to meet her on the south end of the Poole property, next to the Oxbow Wetland and see for himself. He was amazed by the beauty and left vowing to obtain funding from the state to purchase the property. “If we as a state can come together and turn that asset into something that everyone can enjoy, that improves the quality of life for Albuquerque’s West Side, and actually improves the home value for everybody who lives in the area – then that’s a win – win.” Senator Antoinette Sedillo-Lopez certainly thought so and put her expertise to work as soon as Susan and two other principal supporters, Willa Pilar and Ken Churchill, brought this to her attention. She and Senator Candelaria, with help from twelve other state legislators across the City of Albuquerque and Bernalillo County, obligated $4.6 million, which was approved by Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham. Mayor Tim Keller wants to acquire the property and now has the money. Susan recalled when she first reached out to Mayor Keller in September 2018. She said, “As soon as I told him what was happening with the Poole property, without hesitating, he said, ‘I support that and will do whatever I can to protect it.’” While Susan thinks he can and should do more, he has offered to begin talks with the developer. The desired outcome, protecting this property, is still being negotiated, and the status is uncertain, but Susan and the scores of faithful supporters are hopeful. She believes the developer will be willing to talk and a respectable deal is possible.
Susan has been contacted by and talked to New Mexicans from all corners of the state, who are knowledgeable of and interested in, the outcome of the Poole property controversy. The story of a band of citizens fighting to protect culturally, historically, and ecologically rich land that enhances the quality of life for all is an old one and Susan hopes for a successful outcome in this case. So do we. We owe a debt of gratitude to Susan and to the citizens doing the hard work of long and continuous protest.