Sandoval Signpost

An Independent Monthly Newspaper Serving the Community since 1988

  Up Front

Density issues persist in Bernalillo

—Ty Belknap, Signpost

On May 20, 2009, District Court ruled in favor of the Town of Bernalillo in denying an appeal of the May 8, 2008 town council acceptance of the master plan for the Piedra Lisa Townhouses—a victory for the developers, Olive Drab LLC. Then on July 9, 2009, the Bernalillo Planning and Zoning (P&Z) Commission unanimously rejected the Preliminary Plat for Piedra Lisa Townhouses even though they were told by P&Z Director Kelly Moe that they were obligated to approve because the master plan had been passed by the town council. The commissioners received a round of applause from the audience that had assembled to oppose the development. Olive Drab faced another bump in the road.

The continuing saga began in June 2007 when the town implemented a moratorium on new development around the new Rail Runner stations. The Mid-Region Council of Governments (MRCOG) funded a community planning process to facilitate community input and eventually produce two Station Area Plans for the town.

On October 30, 2007, the Bernalillo Town Council adopted the controversial Transit-Oriented Development (TOD) Plan as a supplement to the town’s comprehensive land use plan that was adopted in 2004. It also terminated the moratorium prohibiting acceptance of building permit applications for properties within the sixty-four acres of the TOD plan, opening the door to anticipated development of the area around the stations.

The town council vote to adopt the plan came after a tumultuous week of protest by Bernalillo citizens—seventy-five of whom signed a petition opposed to the TOD plan. During two packed meetings, residents complained that they had not been adequately informed of the plan. They expressed concern that private property could be taken by the town through eminent domain and that property taxes would increase. Speakers worried that the density of new development would destroy the small-town feel by bringing in thousands of commuters, take funding from existing projects, and creating traffic gridlock, and that the crowded area around the stations would serve as a precedent for the development of the town as a whole—including the incorporated areas west of the Rio Grande and the areas east of I-25 below Placitas. They complained that the town government did not communicate openly with residents about what appeared to be a pro-development agenda.

Planners considered these concerns and modified the resolution accordingly. Resolution 10-30-07 included clauses which stated that the TOD plan would not affect the town’s existing eminent domain powers and replaced specific numbers with the vague term “traditional village center densities.” It stated that the TOD plan does not have the force of law and would be considered a “work in progress” and a “living document which shall be continually reviewed and revised as appropriate with public input and participation.”

In March 2008, Planning and Zoning Director Kelly Moe and representatives from Olive Drab LLC presented the case for changing the zoning of property near the Rail Runner station on US 550. The Planning and Zoning commission had recently voted to deny the zone change because of density, drainage, and access issues. P&Z decisions are recommendations only. Moe and Olive Drab urged the council to disregard this decision and change the zoning to Transit-Oriented Development (TOD)/Mixed-Use in order to allow the townhouses.

Moe told the council that the Piedra Lisa development, at 11.23 units per acre, was actually less dense than it could be within the guidelines of the TOD plan. He pointed out that the developer was paying for infrastructure improvements and that the town should consider trading density for affordability. The thirty-four paired townhouses were to be priced from $185,000 to $220,000. Developer Mike Davis said that the development was designed to attract younger people with active lifestyles, as well as commuters from Santa Fe and Albuquerque.

Town councilors cited “too many unanswered questions,” and voted to table this matter until they could conduct a workshop with the Planning and Zoning Commission to work out unresolved issues concerning the TOD plan.

At the following Town Council meeting held on April 14, 2008, the council reconsidered the zone change for Piedra Lisa, but not until they had heard arguments regarding another zone change. This change, from Single-family Residential (R-1) to Multi-family Residential (R-2), was designed to allow for the sixteen-unit Campo Escondido townhouse development on two acres off Calle Escuela, right behind the historic El Zócalo complex.

Kelly Moe was again working with the developers to sway the Council’s opinion in favor of a zone change designed to allow increased density. He told the council that a slight increase in gross density would allow for limiting the height of most dwellings to one story, reduced visual density, more traditional architectural style, increased amenities, and preservation of tree lines. He said that if the council denied this zone change, the developers would be within their rights to bulldoze the property, cut down all the trees, and build fourteen single-family units, potentially three stories tall, with an unsightly mosquito-breeding drainage pond. When calculating density, Moe said that he used “gross density” which includes roads, drainage, and common space as part of the required minimum six thousand square feet per lot.

Twenty residents spoke out against the zone change. Their objections included Moe’s method of calculating density, creation of an “eyesore” next to the historical district, and setting a precedent for the development of adjoining property. They argued that the increased density—coupled with the Flying Star development and buses to Carol Elementary School—would create an unacceptable increase in traffic impact. Bernalillo School Superintendent Barbara Vigil-Lowder said that Calle Escuela was already designated a “hazardous walking area” for school children.

Councilor Sisneros moved to deny the zone change, and Councilor Jaramillo seconded the motion. Councilors Montoya and Torres voted to allow the change, and then Mayor Chávez broke the tie, approving the zone change for Campo Escondido.

This seemed to set the stage for approval of the S-U zoning for the Piedra Lisa development, but the councilors, still not convinced of its legality, denied the change.

Former Town Administrator Stephen Jerge told the Signpost at the time that the town administration was not pushing for increased density, but was “abiding by the guidelines specified in the TOD plan.”

A group of residents formed a community action committee called Take Back Bernalillo in a grassroots effort to gain some control of development issues, contending that S-U zoning and Transit-Oriented Development/Mixed-Use have become catch-all classifications to give developers a freer hand in moving the area toward more urbanization. S-U zoning regulations do not specify residential subdivisions as an approved use.

At a special meeting held on May 8, 2008, the Bernalillo Town Council reconsidered the April denial of a zone change for the Piedra Lisa Development. Kelly Moe stated that the P&Z office was not trying to evade the zoning laws—that they were open to interpretation on a case-to-case basis. This time Councilor Eddie Torres changed his vote in favor of the change and once more Mayor Chávez broke the council’s tied vote, allowing the change, and presumably cleared the way for the townhouses. Ordinance 242—with seven conditions—amended the zoning map to S-U and approved the master plan for development of Piedra Lisa.

On July 7, 2008, Rosalie and Eugene Dome, owners of the property adjacent to the proposed development, joined Margie and Steve Amiot of Take Back Bernalillo in District Court to file an appeal of this decision. The Court found in favor of the Town on May 20, 2009. The appellants are currently considering another appeal to the New Mexico Court of Appeals, based in part on the contention that the copy of Ordinance 242 provided by the town to the court did not contain the conditions as approved by the town council.

After the P&Z Commission rejected the Piedra Lisa preliminary plat on July 9, 2009, Olive Drab appealed this decision because without pre-plat approval, they cannot get a building permit. The Town Council may once again be forced to consider disregarding the expertise of the P&Z Commission.

The Signpost submitted the following list of questions to the new Public Information Officer, Raul Araujo:

  • Is high-density development around the train depots a priority for the town administration?
  • Is there a current, updated zoning map available to the public (and media)?
  • Does the administration plan to extend roads across private land from Calle del Escuela that would have access to US 550?
  • How does the recent pre-plat denial of Piedra Lisa affect plans to proceed with the development?
  • When will the developer’s appeal be considered by the town council?

Araujo emailed his response on July 23: “Apparently the town will not be able to provide any new info aside from what you have from other public sources—primarily due to the recent court decision and a possible appeal. But I want to leave the door open for us to get together on a future article as soon as we see ourselves clear of these legal concerns.”

Fruit on the Vine c. Johnny Mullins

“Fruit on the Vine” by artist Johnny Mullins

Wine Festival Art Contest has a winner

The Town of Bernalillo chose “Fruit on the Vine” by Corrales artist Johnny Mullins as the commemorative poster art for the 2009 New Mexico Wine Festival at Bernalillo. “Fruit on the Vine” was one of fourteen submissions in this year’s poster competition. The painting is a 21”x 34” period watercolor of a young woman harvesting grapes with an adobe home and the Sandia Mountains in the background.

A BSFA graduate of Eastern New Mexico University, Johnny worked in the commercial art field for twenty-five years. Johnny moved back to New Mexico to pursue his love of painting the Southwest. His style is a vivid combination of both realism and impressionism. He also paints in oils, does pencil and ink, and has worked in clay and metal. He has shown his work, both nationally and internationally, in juried as well as one-man shows.

The poster will go on sale in mid-July for $10. A limited edition of two hundred posters with the artist’s signature will be sold for $20 at the festival and at poster signing events. The Poster Signings and Live Remotes schedule is as follows: August 29, KIOT, Jackalope, Bernalillo from 2:00 to 4:00 p.m.; September 4, KHFM, Gathering of Artists, Bernalillo from 3:00 – 5:00 p.m.; September 4, Magic, Farmers Market, Bernalillo from 5:00— 7:00 p.m.

The Town of Bernalillo sponsors the New Mexico Wine Festival as an economic and tourism development project. The 2009 New Mexico Wine Festival at Bernalillo will be held on Labor Day weekend, September 5 to 7 at Loretto Park. For more information, visit

Sgt. Joe Harris

“He was our hero, our Superman,” said the wife of Sgt. Joe Harris.

Sandoval County mourns ‘a true hero’

—L.A. Williams, Signpost

It is not obvious when a hero is born, but rather clear upon their passing.

Sergeant Joe Harris’s “end of watch” came on Thursday, July 16, while he and Deputy Theresa Moriarty were conducting a stakeout in the Jemez area and attempting to arrest Joseph Henry Burgess.

After entering the cabin occupied by Harris and Moriarty, Burgess was subdued and handcuffed. It was during this period that Burgess managed to retrieve a revolver from his pants and fatally wound Harris. Harris was able to return fire and fatally shoot Burgess.

Sergeant Harris’ death represents the first Sandoval County Sheriff’s Department officer ever killed in the line of duty.

Sergeant Harris led a life marked by his love of God, Family, job and community. Harris had served with the Sandoval County Sheriff's Office for six years and had previously retired from the Rio Rancho Police Department after 20 years of service. He was not only a patrol officer trained in fire-fighting and EMT, but served thousands in the community by running the D.A.R.E. program, the G.R.E.A.T. program, Casey Says, Neighborhood Watch, and McGruff the Crime Dog along with other programs aimed at improving community safety.

Recently, Harris had been very active in the innovative and successful Citizen Police Academy that provides volunteers with firsthand training and understanding of the duties and responsibilities of the Sheriff’s Office and other law enforcement agencies.

Thousands attended the memorial service held for Sergeant Harris on Tuesday, July 21, at Santa Ana Star Center. He is survived by his wife, daughter, and two sons.

The outpouring of sympathy and emotion has been overwhelming these past weeks and it is clear Sergeant Harris touched so many lives in such a positive and inspiring way.

Hundreds of comments fill forums online like the following from, “I will miss you my friend and Brother Officer. I will never forget your kind heart. You have served your time now let me carry your burden.”

Whether family, friend, co-worker, or community member, know that as long as we remember, there will live on in our hearts the influence of others.

Drive 55?

‘I can’t drive 55!’

Perhaps you haven’t noticed, but recently a new sign went up in Placitas changing the speed limit to 45 mph when traveling east on Highway 165 near the main Placitas Fire Station.

The old speed limit was 50 mph. One wonders why the change, since most everyone says that you can get away with driving five miles an hour over the limit.

So watch your speed heading up into Placitas or you’ll see that black and white with flashing lights. At least until we get used to it, we will be reminded of the immortal words of the legendary Sammy Hagar: “I can’t drive fifty-five!”

—DWH, Placitas

Town Councilor takes issue with Mayor’s blanket apology

—Ty Belknap, Signpost

Bernalillo Town Councilor Santiago Montoya emailed the Signpost in July to voice his objections to a press release in the July Signpost in which Mayor Patricia Chávez stated, “I want to apologize on behalf of myself, the town council, and administration for failing to identify this credit card misuse due to our deficient financial oversight.” Montoya complained that by offering the blanket apology, the mayor unfairly attempted to spread the blame for this misuse of town funds to the town council.

The Mayor was referring to the well-publicized case, revealed by the Albuquerque Journal last April, of apparent misuse by Town Administrator Stephen Jerge of town credit cards to the tune of about $45,000 over a 26-month period from January 2007 through February 2009 on items including dining, travel, lodging, and fuel. The mayor had signed off on Jerge’s expenses. Over $12,000 in expenses by the mayor were also questioned.

A financial task force commission by the town found the mayor’s charges “justifiable and reasonably well-documented,” but outlined “potential patterns of misuse and questionable expenditures” by Jerge, who has since resigned. No criminal charges have been filed in the matter, but copies of the task force report have been turned over to the state auditor.

Councilor Montoya said, “I can only speak for myself in saying that I do not support the press release. I was never contacted by the Mayor on any issues pertaining to this press release. The mayor has failed to communicate at all with me when it comes to the misuse of the town‘s credit card. Whenever the former town administrator’s expenses were questioned, the mayor supported and approved these expenses. [When the council approved these expenses,] we did so on the information given to us. So as far as I am concerned, the press release is an apology from the mayor, not from the council. I do believe that the community should be informed on what is happening and not apologized to.”

After the scandal surfaced, the town administration hired DW Turner, an Albuquerque public relations firm, to help with crisis management and the repair of damaged public relations. The town council has so far refused to pay DW Turner’s $32,000 bill, most of which was incurred compiling receipts and training town staff to deal with the media. Mayor Chávez made use of her training in last month’s press release. She stated, “In this growing, vibrant community, I remain committed to maximum transparency and accountability. It hurts everyone, financially and otherwise, to be unfairly targeted politically and otherwise by the media and others as we attempt to work through our internal affairs.”

The Signpost asked Councilor Montoya if the town council is still questioning charges from DW Turner, and he responded, “I do feel that DW Turner needs to be paid for the work they did, but I also believe that we do not need to utilize their services any longer. We have staff in house that are more than qualified to handle PR services.”

When asked if he agreed with the mayor’s charge in her press release that the town has been unfairly targeted politically and otherwise by the media, Montoya said, “Perception is reality. It is an unfortunate situation for the town to be in, but we as a council need to make sure that misuse of taxpayers’ money never happens again.”

When asked if the council is taking steps to improve oversight of the town administration, Montoya said, “As [acting] town administrator, Santiago Chavez has done a great job keeping the council informed to this point. There is still little to no communication from the mayor. But things seem to be getting better. I think we as a council have made it clear that there are policies that need to be implemented and followed regardless of one’s title.”






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