Lawsuit targets proposed Elena Gallegos Open Space development

[anvplayer video=”5154235″ station=”998122″]

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The battle over the future of the Elena Gallegos Open Space is leaving the wilderness – and entering a courtroom.

“It’s worth protecting, and it’s worth fighting for,” said Viki Teahan, a member of nonprofit group “Save the Elena Gallegos.”

The group filed a lawsuit Thursday attempting to force the city to abandon plans to build a proposed “environmental education center” inside the open space. More than a dozen protestors gathered outside the Bernalillo County courthouse to celebrate the filing.

The lawsuit claims the city is prohibited from developing the open space because of restrictions in the original purchase agreement with Albuquerque Academy.

“That legal covenant is enforceable. It’s binding. It was agreed upon by the city back in 1982, and it unequivocally prohibits buildings,” said Katrina Sanchez, one of the group’s lead organizers.

The 1982 deed states the roughly 640-acre area of land is to be used like a city park. The agreement limits construction only to hiking trails, benches, roads, parking lots and other minor recreation facilities, but it does not outright prohibit the construction of new buildings.

The city’s parks and recreation department has been working on the education center since 2021. A feasibility study says the proposed 4,800-square-foot facility would be similar to the Open Space Visitor Center on the city’s West Side. The facility would include space for education and community events as well as observation areas.

The study says the project is meant to capitalize on the growing number of visitors to the open space. More than 258,000 people visited Elena Gallegos in 2020 – a 49% increase from the year before. The study also says the education center would increase awareness and accessibility to recreation opportunities on the east side of Albuquerque.

“if it’s positive growth and it brings more potential resources to the area that can maybe be protected, even for the long term, that would be good,” said Paul McHorse while hiking in the open space Thursday. “I’d much rather have an education center than some industrial sort of park or something else being put up.”

Protestors are concerned about setting a legal precedent for open space development. Sanchez suggests if the city is able to sidestep the Elena Gallegos Open Space deed restrictions, it would be difficult to challenge future projects.

Regardless of what the city has planned, members of “Save the Elena Gallegos” say the open space should stay as wild as possible.

“It is a haven for hundreds of thousands of people who go to the Elena Gallegos every year, because they are looking to get away from the city,” Sanchez said. “They want to get away from buildings and urbanization, they want to be in communion with perfect nature.”

The city’s parks and recreation department provided this statement about this project:

This project is still in the public input phase.  The Parks & Recreation Dept./Open Space Division is completing further environmental and engineering studies.  No final decisions have been made on whether the City will move forward with an environmental education facility, what that facility might specifically look like, or where it would be located.  The Open Space Division would not propose a project that we feel would unacceptably impact the Elena Gallegos Open Space and we will continue to advocate for increased access and social equity in environmental education.  As we move forward in the process, further public input opportunities will take place once studies are complete.