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Thursday, November 27, 2014

Future of Vagabond Inn uncertain; UNM files another appeal to block residential development of the space

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By William Aranda / New Mexico Daily Lobo

On Dec. 21, UNM filed an appeal with the City Council against a ruling made by Albuquerque’s Zoning Enforcement Office that allowed developers to renovate the Vagabond Inn near Lobo Village. Although the office ruled that developers can renovate the rundown inn into a motel because of its existing zoning code, the University said that would interfere with its plans to put a shopping center in the area.

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Plans to renovate the rundown Vagabond Inn near Lobo Village may be delayed yet again.

On Dec. 21, UNM filed another appeal with the City Council against an Albuquerque Zoning Enforcement Office ruling. The ruling would allow the Allen Sigmon Real Estate Group to push through renovations of the building. The University also filed an appeal against the proposed renovations with the Council last August after the city’s Environmental Planning Commission approved the project.

UNM director of real estate Kim Murphy said one of the reasons the University opposes the renovation of Vagabond Inn is that it would hinder UNM’s plans to put a shopping center in the area. He said the University owns the 45 acres of land that surround the inn. If the inn were renovated, a shopping center would be hard to fit into the lots, he said.

“The University, the neighbors and now our developer of land surrounding the Vagabond Motel have long-standing objections to the use of this property in violation of the existing zoning,” Murphy said.

Murphy said UNM expects 900 students to move to Lobo Village this year, and approximately 1.3 million people visit sports complexes in the area every year. A shopping center would make services more accessible to these people, he said. The University has already written a master plan for the project in cooperation with Ohio-based developer Fairmount Properties, and Murphy said the Board of Regents approved the plan Dec. 3.

Sigmon first introduced plans to convert the Vagabond Inn into a residential area last summer. UNM and nearby neighborhood associations quickly objected to the plan, and they subsequently appealed the project to the City Council. On Aug. 20, the Council ruled against the developers and UNM won the appeal.

But in an Oct. 18 interview, developer Lance Sigmon said the company was still able to remake the inn into a hotel because of its existing zoning. Sigmon said the building has already been fenced around in preparation for renovation, and that the project would start within a few months.

Murphy said UNM requested a written ruling from the Zoning Office to verify that the building’s existing zoning code allows renovation of the inn. He said that although the office had already released a written ruling that favored the developer, the University believes that it is not the right thing to do.

“The City Zoning Enforcement Department rendered its ruling on Dec. 6, 2012, but in our opinion side-stepped the issue,” he said.

In the interview, Sigmon said that after the company surveyed 120 neighbors around the area, it found out 84 percent of residents felt positively about the project. He said the project, which is at the design phase, will cost about $5 million.

Sigmon declined to comment on UNM’s most recent appeal on the advice of his attorney.

At the time of publication, it is uncertain when the City Council will declare a ruling on the appeal.