ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Zoning laws in New Mexico’s largest city are discriminatory and leading to the erosion of one of the oldest and most historic neighborhoods in Albuquerque, a group of residents alleged Wednesday as they asked federal housing authorities to launch an investigation.
The Historic Neighborhood Alliance and the Martineztown Working Group in a civil rights complaint said Martineztown lacks the zoning protections that the city has instituted for more affluent and less diverse neighborhoods.
Martineztown was settled around the time the United States acquired the land from Mexico in the Mexican-American War in 1846. The community just east of the Rio Grande and north of what is now downtown Albuquerque was known as a paraje, or stopping off point along major trade routes that linked the river valley with the plains east of the Sandia Mountains.
Historic adobe homes still line the streets of Martineztown, and minorities make up more than 70 percent of its mostly low-income population.
Diana Dorn-Jones with the Historic Neighborhood Alliance said the city has for decades allowed the neighborhood to be destroyed by industrial encroachment.
“The residents of Martineztown are fighting to have a voice in the zoning process because it can save this culturally-rich neighborhood,” she said in a statement.
Alicia Manzano, a spokeswoman for Mayor Tim Keller, said the mayor is concerned about historical equity issues in underserved neighborhoods. She said the mayor’s office is encouraging all sides to work together to resolve concerns in a way that doesn’t jeopardize critical funding from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
According to the complaint, the city in the 1950s zoned the area for commerce and light manufacturing. The new zoning attracted manufacturing businesses, open storage and warehousing.
Critics contend the encouragement of commercial and industrial development sparked the deterioration of what made the neighborhood unique.
By 1976, the acequia — or traditional irrigation system — that once fed the community’s agricultural lands was filled.
In addition to failing to zone Martineztown as residential, the complaint states that the city did not protect the neighborhood’s historic resources and that led to the deterioration of many older buildings and the erection of inappropriate land uses and modern architectural styles.
The residents acknowledged that while it’s impossible to completely remedy what they call decades of mistreatment, there are steps the city can take to build a better future for Martineztown.
They are requesting federal housing officials work with the city to change the zoning map to accurately reflect actual land uses, including zoning single-family homes that are part of the community’s historic character as residential and create a buffer between homes and industrial uses.
They’re also asking for an advisory committee to be created and a historic zone to be established that would restrict new construction and retrofits to ensure they complement the existing character of Martineztown.