Organizers win legal battle over development of Elena Gallegos Open Space

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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – The future of the Elena Gallegos Open Space is settled. 

“We’re celebrating a victory,” said Viki Teahan. “We have in fact saved the Elena Gallegos for generations to come.” 

Last week, a judge signed off on a permanent injunction blocking any future developments in the open space – including a proposed education center.

According to the document, the City of Albuquerque agreed to follow land-use restrictions outlined in a property deed from 1982. The injunction marked the end of a months-long legal battle between the city and everyday citizens. 

“It’s very rare that average citizens are able to sue their government and win, and we did,” said Katrina Sanchez. 

Sanchez and Teahan are co-founders of nonprofit group “Save The Elena Gallegos.” They founded the group in 2022 to better protest the city’s plans to build an education center in the open space. 

According to a feasibility study released in early 2022, the facility was designed to capitalize on an increased number of visitors to the open space. The roughly 5,000 square foot building would’ve included classrooms and other multi-purpose areas. 

Sanchez, and other community advocates, were immediately against the idea – which they believe would permanently ruin the natural state of the open space. 

“This was a fight to protect the last undeveloped open space in Albuquerque,” Sanchez said. “This was a fight to maintain this incredible resource that we have of undeveloped wilderness in our own backyard.” 

The group challenged the city’s authority to construct an education center, citing the 1982 deed. The city bought 640 acres of land from Albuquerque Academy with specific directions to turn the space into a city park. The deed includes land-use restrictions which limit construction to things like trails, benches, picnic tables and other park amenities. It does not allow for major construction projects – like a new education center. 

Despite pushback and protests from the group, the city appeared to be moving forward with plans. In December 2022, the group filed a lawsuit against the city. 

“It was an unnecessary fight, because the deed should have stood alone and the city should have respected it from the beginning,” Teahan said. 

A large part of the legal battle between the city and group focused on who gets to enforce the deed’s restrictions. City attorneys noted the deed states Albuquerque Academy is the only party allowed to challenge the city; however, a judge ruled Sanchez, Teahan, and other plaintiffs have a right to challenge the city after considering the overall impact the education center would have on the open space and the people that use it.

“They’ve been enjoying the benefit, for some people, for 30 years or so, which was the intention,” said KOB 4 legal expert Ahmad Assed. “If the city were to construct the building, they would no longer be able to enjoy what they did and therefore, there’s a good argument to be made by the plaintiffs.”

In April, city officials announced plans for an education center in the Elena Gallegos Open Space were not moving forward.

Officials said they were refocusing their efforts to nearby road improvements and upgrades to a nature center in the Tijeras Arroyo Biozone. Despite that announcement, the legal battle continued.

“I hope people realize this was never a fight about one building. This was a fight about faith in our government,” Sanchez said.

“Save the Elena Gallegos” fought to obtain a permanent injunction against any future developments fearing the city could try again in the future.

“The way we got into this predicament to begin with is that regular hikers bikers, dog walkers, picnickers we’re not aware that they had the legal right to fight back and stop this,” Sanchez said. “We just want the next generation to be aware that this is a sacred 640 acres that will always be protected from buildings.”