The Sandoval Signpost

An Independent Monthly Newsmagazine Serving the Community since 1989


The building site for Walgreens and other unnamed businesses soon to go in on the northeast corner of US 550 and Camino del Pueblo/NM 313 in Bernalillo, with a Holiday Inn Express to be built just north of the Days Inn.

The building site for Walgreens and other unnamed businesses soon to go in on the northeast corner of US 550 and Camino del Pueblo/NM 313 in Bernalillo, with a Holiday Inn Express to be built just north of the Days Inn.

Main Street, Bernalillo

Bill Diven

When the Bernalillo Hotel burned down decades ago, a view of the Sandia Mountains opened up for the Madrid family living around the corner.

Now the vacant lot on Camino del Pueblo at the south end of town is prime commercial property. And town officials say its development is another example of owners voluntarily adopting proposed downtown design guidelines not enacted into law.

Daniel “Tommy” Madrid, representing the third generation to live in the family home on Avenida Bernalillo, said he is not opposed to the Vineyard Village project about to be built next door. He told the Bernalillo Town Council his main concern is the loss of privacy with two-story homes looming over his backyard.

“To me it’s a negative, but I want to be a good neighbor and work with them,” Madrid said. The councilors approved the project but required owner Fawn Dolan to wall the property and attempt to limit the size and view of second-floor windows.

Dolan’s half-acre project, adjacent to her current business, Camino Real Antiques, mixes seven one- and two-story condominiums and two thousand square feet of commercial space. It sits opposite Ashley’s, a regional-style restaurant, gas station, and convenience store that opened three months ago.

At the north end of town, a commercial project anchored by Walgreens Drug Store is planned on the northeast corner of Camino del Pueblo and U.S. 550, while a Holiday Inn Express is nearing construction north of the northwest corner.

All the new projects reflect consultations between the owners and the town planners proposing a “MainStreet Overlay District” to govern buildings on Camino del Pueblo.

“Everyone we talk to sees the value of enhancing the town’s identity,” said Kelly Moe, town planning and zoning director. “It’s a difference between good design and bad design. All design is not equal.”

Moe and community development director Maria Rinaldi, who heads the Bernalillo MainStreet Program, said two years of work and public meetings produced design guidelines for building size, height, materials and architectural features, lighting, signs, fences, and parking lots. As the guidelines are drafted, metal and vinyl siding, chain-link and bare cinder block “devoid of character” are out; “visual interest” and “historic character” are in.

Architect George Rainhart said he already had those concepts in mind when he approached the town about the Walgreens retail project.

“It was not a stretch to go with northern New Mexico style,” Rainhart said. “We broke up the buildings and are using softer, desert kind of colors to look more like a village street facade instead of a long boring strip.”

Rainhart’s overall site plan was approved by the Bernalillo Planning and Zoning Commission on July 22.

Moe and Rinaldi also influenced the new Dollar Store’s adoption of a Southwestern facade and moving the parking lot to the rear. Ashley’s owner Charlie Williamson said they asked him to face his building onto Camino del Pueblo instead of Avenida Bernalillo.

“You really can’t stop progress,” Williamson said. “I do hope developers or whoever comes in builds to a high standard.”

While mayor Charles Aguilar welcomes new tax revenue, he said some constituents fear losing private property rights and needing town approval for minor repairs.

“Any new development should stay within the tone of the town,” Aguilar said. “We’ve so far been very lucky in retaining our uniqueness as a close-knit community.”

The most collaborative effort to date has been in the project of Dolan and her husband, electrical contractor Tom Hagan. Dolan was already familiar with the New Mexico MainStreet Program from working with the Bernalillo program.

“I went around and took pictures of buildings that I liked in Bernalillo and Albuquerque,” Dolan told the Signpost. “Then they [architects] drew up what they thought would benefit best in the confined space and complement Ashley’s just to bring some energy and vibrancy down to this part of town.”

An architect with the state program prepared the site plan and sketches of what the finished buildings would look like, she said.


Placitas subdivision has well problems

Ty Belknap

The Cedar Creek Water Cooperative reported ongoing problems with their well which required supplemental supplies to be trucked in throughout the month of July. They say that their well has not gone dry, in fact the water level has not changed, but has plugged up with mineral deposits. It will be rehabilitated with acid treatments and will continue as a backup after a new well is drilled.

Meanwhile, members of the co-op have been asked to severely restrict their water usage. An article entitled "Dry Times in Placitas" that appeared in the July 23 Albuquerque Tribune ( contained statements and inferences that the members of the CCWC board found inaccurate and misleading. (See letter from Rick Schumard in The Gauntlet section of this Signpost, on page 35.)

Cedar Creek resident Tom Walker who was quoted extensively in the Tribune article said that he was misquoted. "We only meant to explain some of the things we were doing to conserve water," said Walker. "I never said anything about the well going dry, in fact, I made a point of emphasizing that there were mechanical problems with the well, and that they should talk to somebody on the water board."

A private well about a hundred yards from and at the same depth as the CCWC continues to be a good producer after 15 years. The owner has not, however, measured its production or checked its static level to see if the water table has dropped.

Hydrologist Peggy Johnson advocates that these checks be done periodically and kept as a public record. She stated that this would give home owners and potential buyers real data about what is going on below the surface.

With the availability of these public records, the public might not have to rely on information provided by the spin of ill-informed reporters, or from people pushing anti-development or development agendas.


HUD director praises Bernalillo Housing Authority 

Federal officials have praised the turnaround in the Bernalillo public-housing program, which was near bankruptcy two years ago.

“The Bernalillo Housing Authority is a tremendous program,” said Michael Griego, field office director for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. “The program has gone from near failure to being an example for other programs,” he added.

Griego spoke at a July 18 ribbon-cutting ceremony for three public-housing units that have been upgraded to handicapped-access standards. “Few other programs in the state have provided the upgrades, despite a mandate to do so,” he said.


Dave Bagley


A June tour of the bosque was hosted by 300 Friends of the Rio Rancho Open Space

A June tour of the bosque was hosted by 300 Friends of the Rio Rancho Open Space
for Rio Rancho and Sandoval County officials. You can barely see the forest (cottonwoods) for the trees (nonnative).

Bosque non-natives guzzle water, provide fuel for fire

Bill Diven

The 300 Friends of the Rio Rancho Open Space see a contradiction on the banks of the Rio Grande: a water-hogging jungle ripe for devastating fire.

“I’m scared,” Friends treasurer Dave Bagley said. “It’s a tinderbox.”

Stately cottonwoods still tower above the west bank of the Rio Grande between Bernalillo and Corrales. Packed tightly in among them, however, are the nonnative salt cedar, Russian olive, and elm trees shading out native plants and daily sucking up as much as two hundred gallons of water apiece.

The cottonwood long ago adapted to surviving ground fires. Today the choking tangle of nonnatives is the fuel that helped turned a recent fire in Albuquerque’s bosque into a raging inferno.

“Envision them gone,” Bagley told public officials touring the Rio Rancho Bosque Preserve. “You’re going to go back to the cottonwood.”

The process of restoring the bosque to its open appearance of a hundred years ago is expected to begin this month. The Ciudad Soil and Water Conservation District recently accepted the $66,000 bid of Belen-based Swisco to remove the interlopers from twenty acres below Rio Rancho’s River’s Edge II neighborhood.

Similar projects on five- and eighty-acre parcels within the Rio Rancho preserve also are in the works. The nonnatives originally were planted throughout the state for ornamentation and erosion control.

The salt cedar with its forty-foot taproot is particularly tough, taking up to three years to die after cutting and application of topical herbicide to its stump, according to Stan Bulsterbaum, salt-cedar removal coordinator for the New Mexico Association of Conservation Districts.

“We’re not going to hit them with a nick and a promise,” Bulsterbaum said. “We will leave everything that we can that is native,” he added.

The conservation districts are working under a $5 million legislative appropriation channeled through the New Mexico Department of Agriculture. The money is specifically for water protection and conservation in the Pecos River and the Rio Grande with fire control, recreation, and habitat restoration considered side benefits, Bulsterbaum said.

Bagley said the Friends plan to involve Tree New Mexico and possibly youth groups in replanting some areas. Completion of the work depends on funding and could be completed in two to five years, he said.

The Friends also have applied for a grant from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to launch their own five-acre thinning project.

The Friends group first organized in 1996 to help Rio Rancho use and preserve the bosque, according to Don Alberts, a Friends founder and River’s Edge I resident. The group helped to develop trails and get the area fenced and gated and is now a nonprofit corporation.

Ultimately the group and the city envision a trail system from Bernalillo to Corrales, where it would tie into existing bosque trails extending downriver through Bernalillo County and Albuquerque. Santa Ana Pueblo has its own bosque-restoration project underway north of Bernalillo, and the Rio Rancho project is consulting with its neighbor across the river, Sandia Pueblo.

When the project is completed, visitors to the bosque shouldn’t expect picnic tables and charcoal grills.

“We’re not developing it as a park,” said acting director P. J. Perry of the Rio Rancho Parks and Recreation Department. “This is just to get the water-sucking plants out of there and restore it to its natural state.”

The preserve normally is open sunup to sundown but currently is under a fire closure ordered by the Rio Rancho City Council. The closure is set to expire August 10 but could be extended if dry conditions persist, Perry explained.


Two Mexican wolves, part of the recovery program of the Mexican wolf, now reside

Two Mexican wolves, part of the recovery program of the Mexican wolf, now reside
at Wildlife West Nature Park. These eight-year-old sisters represent reserve genetic stock
and have been assigned to the educational portion of the program.

Acoustic blues festival to benefit wildlife

For the second year in a row, an impressive lineup of blues musicians will take the stage at Anasazi Fields Winery in Placitas at the annual Gathering of Spirits on August 2 and 3. “Our goal,” says winery partner Sue Petersen (aka Big Momma Ethel), “is to make Gathering of Spirits one of the top blues events in the area.”

The festival runs from noon to 6:00 p.m. each day. Admission is $10 for adults and includes a wine glass. Youth from fourteen to twenty years old pay $4. Children under fourteen are admitted free. All proceeds benefit Wildlife West Nature Park, an educational facility in Edgewood featuring native plants and animals of New Mexico. The park is home to a pair of Mexican gray wolves, elk, deer, pronghorn, javelinas, raptors, cougars, raccoons, coyotes, and a bobcat.

Saturday’s lineup at the winery is an eclectic assortment of Albuquerque’s blues scene. Big Momma Ethel and Stagefright Slim open with their jovial antics. Joan Griffin and Larry Freedman perform a duo version of their band Combo Special. Joan’s voice is a force of nature matched by Larry’s chops on the piano. The Frank McCullock Trio consists of guitar, mandolin, and upright bass with a Cajun flair.

Trisha Ray opens on Sunday, followed by Stan Hirsch, returning from his summer European tour just in time for his second year at Gathering of Spirits.

“I love playing at the winery,” says Stan. “The setting is intimate and the wines are pretty good, too.”

Mary Flower, an internationally acclaimed blues artist, headlines on Sunday. Mary Flower was thrice voted Colorado’s Best Folkie”and was a prizewinner in the National Fingerpicking Guitarist Championship in 2000. She has four CD recordings t and two popular guitar instructional videos to her credit. Her distinctive vocals are soothing and poignant in combination with her virtuoso guitar. Mary Flower has taught master guitar classes at many national roots music camps and will be teaching a workshop on Monday evening, August 4. Call 828-9502 for more information on the workshop.

Wildlife West Nature Park will be presenting a live bird show on both days of the festival from noon to 1:00 p.m. Local artists with booths at the festival will include Fred and Kristin Wilson, Nancy and Jon Couch, Jeff Sipe, Frank McCulloch III, Steve White, Karen Hall, and Jim Fish. Blue Plate Special will be offering gourmet sandwiches as well as standard items from the grill.

Carpooling to the event is recommended. Lawn chairs and blankets are suggested. No picnic baskets or drinks are allowed for this event. Water will be provided at no charge. Nonalcoholic drinks will be available at a nominal cost.


County initiates composting program for green waste

Bill Diven

In the last year, Mike Foster took enough green waste into the Sandoval County Landfill to bury the Bernalillo Spartans’ football field thirty-three feet deep in grass-, shrub-, and tree trimmings.

To the county’s assistant public works director, that commercial and residential waste is a potentially marketable commodity being lost. Worse, it occupies valuable space shortening the lifespan of the landfill.

The solution under consideration is a twist on the old computer axiom Garbage in, garbage out. Try instead Garbage in, compost out.

“Overall, with everything, I’m hoping to reduce the waste stream 17 percent, which will gain us a lot of time with the landfill,” Foster said in an interview. “In our meetings with the state, they are looking for major waste reductions and say more landfill sites may be tough to come by.”

The composting facility at the landfill on Idalia Road west of NM 528 would be totally enclosed in containers each holding fifty cubic yards. Green waste mixed with manure from area livestock and subject to forced-air drying composts in a few days, compared to a month or two for open compost piles.

The enclosed process is promoted as being odor-free.

County commissioners authorized preliminary work on the project more than a year ago and sent county officials to tour a Minnesota facility similar to what may be built here.

At a July meeting, Foster told commissioners that the department plans to start with six bins and registration with the state Environment Department. Any expansion to take in sewer and septic sludge would require a formal permitting process with the state, he added.

Two municipalities—Albuquerque and Las Cruces—currently run open-air facilities plowing the sludge into fields remote from the cities.

County manager Debbie Hays said state and federal land managers have discussed composting thousands of piñons killed by bark beetles. If transportation and other issues can be resolved, the compost could be returned to the forest as a soil builder, she added.

Foster told the Signpost the project is still in the design stage for up to twenty composting bins, although the pilot project would begin with six bins. Eventually recycling of metals, biosolids, construction debris, and white goods like refrigerators and water heaters could reduce trash burying by 40 percent and extend further the current fifteen-year life expectancy of the landfill.

“If we can stretch that, look at the dollars we save, millions of dollars,” commissioner Damon Ely said. “We still have to be careful about the dollars; that’s why we’re doing a pilot project.”

Ely said he hopes to see initial funding in the fiscal year 2004-2005 budget. Foster said the county already has bought some time with a tarp-laying machine that eliminates covering the day’s trash with dirt each night.

The county recently added eighty acres to the 135-acre landfill. which is open Mondays through Saturdays from 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Transfer stations in Cuba, Cañon, and Peña Blanca are open 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. on Wednesdays and Saturdays.

Also in July, county commissioners:

  • Approved seeking grant funds to study potential airport sites in Sandoval County.
  • Extended the moratorium on new billboards another eighteen months pending action on a new ordinance later this month.
  • Amended the subdivision ordinance to require new land developments show one-hundred-year water supplies in the East Mountains, Diamond Tail, and Rio Puerco areas, as is required currently in Placitas.
  • Rejected a request by county clerk Victoria Dunlap to retain the Bureau of Elections $4,000 overtime budget. Commissioners, who recently approved a fourth position in the bureau, voted to control the budget themselves and disperse it only by request.
  • Authorized creation of a five-member economic-development group to work with the Richardson Administration.
  • Approved going to bid for new fire substations in the Cochiti Mesa and Seven Springs areas.
  • Learned that the county purchase of El Zócalo in Bernalillo closed on June 18 for $1.1 million and that contractor bids are due September 4 for construction of the county justice complex.






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