Byline: Kate Nash KNASH@ABQTRIB.COM / 823-3602
Money to buy open space hasn't gone as far as expected, but it has preserved some jewels for the city
Matt Schmader slips out of his city government-issued Chevy Blazer and onto parched, humpbacked swells on Albuquerque's far West Side.
The land appears worthless an undeveloped, nondescript wasteland just north of I-40.
But like a mirage in the desert landscape, the land deceives the eye.
This 675-acre parcel is rich with remnants of pre-pueblo life, including layers of hand-carved stone tools and fire-cracked quartzite what centuries ago was used as silverware and an oven.
"It may look like a whole lot of nothing from I-40," said Schmader, the open space assistant superintendent, gesturing at sliding walls of tan grit navigated only by fire ants.
"But if you get out and look, you experience the wilderness, and that's what open space is supposed to be about."
By the end of the summer, the private land known as Atrisco Terrace will become the latest jewel in the city's collection of open space properties.
But some say City Hall's efforts to buy these kind of open space treasures have come up short.
Five years ago, city leaders announced an ambitious campaign to buy 26 open space properties across the city with $36.1 million generated by a quarter-cent tax approved by voters in 1997.
But city officials were only able to buy 10 properties before the open space funding essentially dried up. About $3.6 million remains from the two-year open space tax.
The city's buying power was drained by higher-than-expected land prices, condemnation expenses and the controversial Anderson Field land deal.
That one purchase, which cost taxpayers $14.5 million, gobbled up nearly half of the open space money in one fell swoop.
"Unfortunately, the minute the city expresses interest in any land, the price goes through the roof," said City Attorney Bob White.
"And the system that's established is one where if we can't agree (on a land price), it goes to the courts, …