4OYS: 'Zombie subdivisions' threaten NM communities

Posted at: 05/14/2014 10:49 PM
Updated at: 05/15/2014 7:31 AM
By: Ryan Luby, KOB Eyewitness News 4

Although the housing crisis is no longer a daily headline, a 4 On Your Side investigation found the Albuquerque metro still has more than 100,000 undeveloped residential lots.  In other words, that's 100,000 pieces of property that were supposed to be occupied by new homes.

Like other southwest states, New Mexico is home to "zombie subdivisions" – modern-day ghost communities that were platted, in some cases paved with streets, but lack houses after the housing market collapsed in 2008.

"Yeah, the market really dropped," Connie Bornschein said. She's lived in a home near Gibson Boulevard and Messina Drive in southwest Albuquerque for the last three years. She said she's about to move out and try to lease it to renters with the help of her son.

The home is in a part of Albuquerque that experienced explosive growth roughly 10 years ago.

Across the street from Bornschein's home, more than a dozen lots remain undeveloped and encompassed by a metal fence.

"It makes it kind of depressing … You can look and see the beautiful mountain and stuff like that, but then you look down and there's not much to look at," she said.

A recent study by the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy found millions of vacant lots across eight southwestern states -- Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Utah, Wyoming, and New Mexico.  The study said "zombie subdivisions" compromise quality of life, diminish fiscal health, and distort real estate markets. In short, the study concluded that the subdivisions suck the lives of communities.

Across the immediate Albuquerque metro, the 4 On Your Side investigative team identified roughly 101,000 vacant residential lots – roughly 73,000 in Sandoval County, roughly 29-thousand in Bernalillo County. Workers in the Sandoval County Assessor's office said a large number of the lots were platted when the AMREP Corporation failed to develop Rio Rancho as it had intended.

Despite the stigma sprawling "zombie subdivisions" have across the country, developers said Albuquerque's lots are steadily filling up once again.

According to the Greater Albuquerque Association of Realtors, overall home sales grew four-percent in the first quarter of 2014 compared to the first quarter of 2013.  Overall home sales prices rose roughly two-percent.

Developers could soon have a little help from Albuquerque's Planning Department.  In the last month, it's begun to figure out a way to unify the city's zoning code.  Currently, 48 different sets of rules, known as sector development plans, exist.

"It is a nightmare, and that's one of the complaints that I get," Acting Planning Director Suzanne Lubar said.  She said some of the rules overlap.

Lubar would like to combine the various best aspects of the rules into one.  She said it would cost roughly $1.5 million, but would permanently fix several decades of zoning 'band-aids.'  It would account for both residential and commercial growth.

"We absolutely have to do this.  If we don't do this, we will lose economic development opportunities to cities where the process is understandable," she said.

Certainly, families in Albuquerque's so-called "zombie subdivisions" hope to have new neighbors that will buy a home and stay for the long-term.

"I just don't like all the dirt flying over here," homeowner Stephanie Lucero, who also lives near Gibson Boulevard and Messina Drive, said.