Sandoval Signpost

An Independent Monthly Newspaper Serving the Community since 1988

  Up Front

Sandoval County kicks-off 2009

—L.A. Williams

The Sandoval County Commission began it’s 2009 agenda with a meeting held January 15. New commissioners, Daryl F. Madalena and Glenn Walters, sat in attendance, along with the new County Manager, Juan Vigil.

Commissioner Don Leonard was nominated and voted Chairman, and Commissioner Orlando Lucero was nominated and voted to the position of Vice-Chairman.

There were a number of budget resolutions that were approved to reflect or adjust grant funds for county projects, and some other requests that led to a few surprises for the crowd on hand.

The first shock of the evening came when Martie Furber, Executive Director of the Southwest Multimedia Educational Collaborative (SMEC), presented a request for motion to authorize the County Manager to enter into a professional services agreement between the county and SMEC to further the alliance among the school districts in the Multimedia and Literacy Career Paths.

Furber requested that the unused portion of 2008 funds, in the amount of $94,925, be renewed for the 2009 year to benefit the program.

Commissioner David Bency, who had in previous meetings stated his opposition to the funding until after the legislative session, reiterated his position that he has nothing against the program, but that the timing of such a large financial request was irresponsible when school budgets have yet to be decided, and if the monies the county has should even be spent in this manner.

Rather than being the only commissioner opposed to the request, as had been the case in 2008, when Bency moved to motion there was silence from the other commissioners. With no second, the request died, and left most observers in the room stunned.

The next surprise for the evening came when Juan Vigil, County Manager, made a request for approval of the new Personnel Ordinance and Personal Rules and Regulations including a Sexual Harassment Policy for Sandoval County employees.

The drafting of the new Ordinance has been going on for many months. In December 2008 the commission voted to have a “work session” between department heads and employees to work out any final concerns and answer any lingering questions about the documents.

Although the work session appeared to be a success, as many in the room thanked Vigil for the hard work and the vast time and effort spent, it didn’t seem to satisfy the two new commissioners.

Commissioners Madalena and Walters commented that they still had a few questions pertaining to the rules and regulations, and both felt they needed more time to review the extensive documents.

Following an unsuccessful vote to approve the ordinance, Vigil pleaded with the Commissioners to get this back on the agenda in early February, and reminded them that this is a “living document” which may be continually edited and updated as needed.

In other business at the January meeting, the Commission approved the appointment of Michael Lucero to the Sandoval County Planning & Zoning Commission. A request by Trails Investors, LLC for Final Plat approval to add two lots to the approved Plat for Anasazi Meadows in Placitas, was also given the green light. The original Preliminary Plat was approved in 2005 for 125 lots with an allowance for up to 9 additional lots upon review and approval by the County Engineer, the Planning & Zoning Commission, and Board of County Commissioners.


Town Council will assume Section 8 Housing Vouchers

—Katie Williams

During the January 12 meeting of the Bernalillo Town Council, the members unanimously approved a resolution on the transfer of the US Department of Housing and Urban Development Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher Program from the Village of Cuba to the Town of Bernalillo.

Section 8, or the Housing Choice Voucher Program, is a Federal housing program that provides housing assistance to low-income renters and homeowners. This assistance comes in the form of rental subsidies, limiting the monthly rent payment of the assistance recipient.

To qualify for Section 8 you must be a low-income person (below 50% of the Area Median Income). Section 8 is a Federal program administered nationally by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). The public housing authority or other designated agencies and organizations administer the program locally.

Rick Bela informed the council that the Village of Cuba has distributed 40 of the 58 vouchers in their possession, most of which are currently being used in Rio Rancho due to the greater availability of jobs.

Section 8 vouchers are "portable". So, once you receive a voucher, you can take it anywhere in the United States that has a public housing authority which can administer the voucher. You can literally receive a voucher in New Mexico and move to Hawaii with it.

By assuming administration of the vouchers, the Town of Bernalillo should expect to see revenue of approximately $30,000 per year. The town will “manage and absorb” the housing vouchers, said Bela, and the town will be responsible for inspecting the housing once per year.

Recently, the Section 8 program was modified to allow Section 8 to help pay mortgage payments for qualified first-time homebuyers. To qualify, you must be a first-time homebuyer, have a household income of at least $10,300, been continuously employed for one-year (except for elderly or disabled persons), attend a homeownership counseling course and meet any other restrictions imposed by the local housing authority. Local public housing authorities may choose to implement a homeownership voucher program if they wish but are not required to.

To find out more about rental or homeownership vouchers call the local housing authority.


Stephen Barro 

Stephen Barro presents his comments on the Placitas Area Plan draft, which was written by Sandoval County's long-range planner, Mr. Moises Gonzales. The comments focused on substantive issues and recommendations. 

Placitas Area Plan: rapidly progressing

—Orin Safier / Signpost Staff

On January 23, the first draft of the Placitas Area Plan was presented to the P&Z Commission for its review. The Commissioners present were John Arango/Chairman, Todd Hathorne/Vice-Chairman, Ralph Martinez, Pat Vester, and Mike Lucero.

At the end of the meeting the County Development Department was instructed to produce a revised draft. According to Mike Springfield, Director of Development, this should be ready in one to two weeks.

The Commission and Development Department had received comments on the draft plan from various groups and individuals in Placitas. After the presentation by Moises Gonzales, the Long Term Planner, the Commission opened the floor for 45 minutes of public comments. Afterwards the Commission and members of the Development Department discussed their ideas regarding how the Plan should be modified.

This report focuses on the discussions between the Commissioners and members of the Development Department, primarily Moises Gonzales, the Long Range Planner, and Mike Springfield. The public comments were intelligent, and well received by the Commission, and some points in those comments made their way into the recommendations of the Commission.

Although the report does contain many of the points made by the county officials, this is not a full transcript of the meeting.

General Points from the discussions:

1. There are two products of this planning process: the Area Plan, and the zoning and subdivision ordinances that will be added to the code in accord with the policy set down in the Area Plan. It is the purpose of the Area Plan to express policies, and that of the ordinances to lay down enforceable regulations. Consequently what will appear in the Area Plan will be less specific than the consequent ordinances. Much of the night’s discussion concerned the degree of specificity or generality appropriate to various parts of the Plan, and the Plan in general.

2. Because the more specific work will be done in writing the ordinance code, then going through the legislative process to make it part of County law, this planning process will go on for considerably longer than many have expected. The Plan itself is scheduled to be completed and approved by late March of this year (though there was some discussion of extending this). But the regulation process could go on for three to six months longer.

3. While a good deal of consideration has been given to residents’ concerns regarding direct zoning issues, the Area Plan is relatively noncommittal as regards major issues, which are environmental in the broad sense of the term, that the community has stressed in its presentations. Vice-Chairman Hathorne made a point of order to bar any discussion
whatsoever of the large BLM parcel to the north of the designated planning area. And only fairly bland statements were made in the plan regarding Open Space and the Wildlife Corridor.

Mr. Gonzales’s main points:

1. The draft plan captures about 70% of the consensus goals for the community, though the percentage is difficult to estimate.

2. It is the purpose of the plan to make recommendations that will bear fruit in the zoning and subdivision code to be written subsequent to the plan’s adoption. “The devil’s in the details,” so most of the specifics will be contained in the work on those ordinances. The Area Plan sets general policies. Eventually these will be compiled with the policies contained in area plans for all the parts of the county, to produce a new Comprehensive Plan that reflects all these area-specific general policies.

3. Some groups wanted cultural references in the history narrative while others wanted less. The staff has tried to balance these two.

4. Some questioned including population conditions in the Existing Conditions, but this is required so that when the Comprehensive Plan is produced the County Commission will have these necessary demographics.

5. The Goals section of the draft plan was left incomplete. What is planned here is a synthesis in bullet points of the various community wishes expressed during the process. (It was later discussed whether instead the Goals section should include what the plan’s goals are, that is, what the main reasons are for the recommendations that follow.)

6. From the input received from various groups and individuals, some of the stylistic points were well taken, and appropriate changes will be made. But the policy recommendations will for the most part stay the same.

7. Regarding the Wildlife Corridor and Roads, the staff is clear about the community recommendations. However nothing specific can be done without official study that maps out the Corridor. “This is above our pay grade.” (Later, however, public comment pointed out that there are preliminary maps, and that a completion of this study is only about 7 months away.)

8. Staff sticks to the 28-foot height limit, rather than the 24-foot recommended by OnePlacitas.

9. Night sky: The full wording will appear once the ordinance is written.

10. Regarding the Las Placitas community area, the revised plan will include more narrative regarding the culture of the area and acequias.

11. There are some refinements needed to the maps.

12. There is more work to be done regarding Placitas Heights, which has discussed becoming part of the West Placitas Residential District.

13. Knight Seavey has been asked to provide some definitions for terms involving non-residential development and “home occupation”, with will be mixed with existing zoning code.

Chairman Arango’s remarks preliminary to the public comment:

1. He emphasized the distinction between the Area Plan and the code to be derived from it.

2. As the plan will mostly include general recommendations, it is important that these be correct.

3. He agrees with the strategy of splitting the area into different districts for planning purposes.

4. The commission will accept written comments about the plan. He mentioned no deadline.

Vice-Chairman Hathorne’s remarks preliminary to the public comment:

1. He commended Mr. Gonzales and the Placitas community for their work on the process.

2. “Lines mean things.” That is, anything that goes into the Plan must have tangible consequences, and not just be for show.

3. The work of writing the regulations will require just as much public input as the work so far. So come to the meetings!

4. He made a point of order that there be no discussion of areas “outside the blue line”, which has been used to define the Placitas Area for planning purposes. This excludes the north BLM parcel.

5. Please allow the commission to do its work.

During public comment, in response to a question, Mr. Springfield clarified that the new zoning ordinances will be in the form of “community district overlays.”

After the public comments the various commissioners expressed their views and recommendations.

Chairman Arango’s comments:

1. Cannot hold up development near I-25 interchange until it is completed.

2. Concerning a public comment that the I-25 frontage roads need to be dealt with in the Plan, possibly as a seventh district, he said it may be too late to do that, considering the present stage of the process.

3. There should be language requiring that subdivision roads be brought up to present county standards if used to connect to roads for new subdivisions.

4. There should be stronger conditions put on when a Loop Road could be open to future serious consideration.

5. The north BLM parcel does have impact on the Placitas Area. The county needs to ensure that nothing is done there, which has harmful impact on the plan area.

6. He rejected public comments regarding treating the Cashwell property separately in the Area Plan. What happens with that property should involve the zoning rather than the planning process.

7. Needs to be stronger language to protect acequias.

8. Regarding a number of public comments opposed to any taking of land along the Las Huertas Creek, he agreed that there should be no taking of this private land.

9. It needs to be considered whether specific recommendations are struck from the Area Plan altogether, and only general recommendations are included.

10. The Plan should encourage water and energy conservation.

11. The Wildlife Corridor and potential open spaces need to be considered when planning and zoning. However there is not yet an official map for the Corridor. (See note 7 above regarding Mr. Gonzales’ presentation.)

12. Due to public comment opposing the 2 acre minimum limit for lots in Ideal Acres, he suggested that this should be reviewed.

13. There do need to be regulations on slope development, though some in the community have asked that there be none.

Commissioner Martinez’s recommendations:

1. There needs to be better language on the right to farm.

2. Certain areas should be designated as animal-friendly.

Commissioner Lucero’s recommendations:

1. The staff and commission need to address discrepancies between stated goals and recommendations.

2. He noticed how greatly building permits have decreased since 2004. Assumes that there is either a low supply of lots for building, or some overly restrictive changes in zoning ordinances. Mr. Gonzales responded that this is largely due to a change in the housing market, especially as regards demand for over median price houses.

3. He suggested that there might be too much effort being put into areas with very little undeveloped land. Perhaps the regulatory work needs to be concentrated on those areas with the greatest percentage undeveloped. Mr. Gonzales responded that a map in the Plan shows the present build out, and that residents have requested that new development of new areas be consistent with development already there.

4. He stressed the importance of fiscal responsibility regarding this planning process.

5. He feels that the many comments against restrictions on ridge top development are not honored in the Plan. Mr. Springfield responded that the purpose of these meetings is to listen to the commission and the public, and try to incorporate the various recommendations into the Area Plan consistent with sound planning principles. If there remains unresolved conflicts, then these need to be reported to the County Commission, who will then have to decide.

6. He objected to the characterization of Placitas as turning into a “retirement community”. The evidence against this is the traffic congestion during rush hours, which indicates that many residents are commuting to jobs.

7. He expressed how much he values the open space in Placitas, but questioned whether there is a need for any more. What might be needed is a trail system connecting the present open spaces, and possibly easements along the highway for walking.

8. He suggested striking imprecise language like “many people”, in favor of reporting only precise facts.

9. A 2-acre minimum in Ideal Acres may be a burden on the owners, and also restrictions on ridge top development.

Vice-Chairman Hathorne’s recommendations:

1. Agrees with recommendations of Las Placitas community that language regarding values be as strong as appear in the Jemez Valley Area Plan, especially concerning water and acequias.

2. Disagrees with the Land Grant and acequia communities that water issues need not be addressed.

3. County should require community water systems where possible, and stress conservation.

4. The Intera water study should be better integrated in the Plan. Perhaps there are higher standards as regards water use in the more water challenged parts of Placitas.

5. Staff should use the Jemez Plan as a model for water regulations.

6. Lot size regulations should be tied to water availability.

7. The Area Plan should be less specific about such design considerations as color palettes.

8. However there should be specific height limits in the Plan, and based on community wishes.

9. Here there was a general discussion of the specificity of the Area Plan. Mr. Springfield said that the revision would cut the size of the Plan about in half, cutting most specifics. There needs to be consistent instructions from the commission regarding this. Mr. Gonzales estimated that it would take at least three months for the code writing and approval process. Mr. Springfield upped that to at least six months. Commissioner Lucero remarked that the Plan should be mostly general, but that major specific exceptions for various districts noted in the Plan.

10. Vice-Chairman Hathorne addressed the Open Space issue, remarking that so far the public discussion had lacked recommendations for specific locations. He recommends an Open Space Exploratory Committee, made up of county officials and members of the public, to arrive at better specifics, including possible easements. This however should not allow eminent domain. Commissioner Lucero requested removing the language in the Open Space section of the plan regarding possible open space along Las Huertas Creek. Also there should be recommendations for walking easements. Mr. Springfield pointed out that these recommendations cannot be made without a study, but a statement in the Plan can mandate this study.

11. He wants a more flexible plan that would allow for more non-residential uses in residentially zoned properties. He does not like using the term “commercial” in this regard, but instead envisages non-residential use offices and non-residential use retail, that would be in the style of houses, so as to preserve a residential look. A house and office might be connected or near one another, with only a modest sign differentiating the two from the outside.

12. He does not want to consider marketing or business plans when considering zoning that allows for non-residential uses.

13. Placitas residents should be encouraged to do their commerce in Placitas.

14. He asked that the areas abutting the I-25 frontage roads be treated as a seventh district.

15. The Area Plan might help transition the Placitas community towards incorporating.

16. It might be too difficult to demand that subdivision roads be brought up to present county standards if they connect to new subdivision roads.

17. There should be more commerce in Placitas, partly to cut down on pollution due to trips into Bernalillo and elsewhere.

Commissioner Vester recommended that there be more language in the Plan regarding farming and acequias.

Mr. Springfield’s remarks:

1. Transportation issues on highway 165 need to be handled by NMDOT, since this is a state road. The County then helps implement the findings of NMDOT.

2. Because of the work involved in completing the planning and code writing process, it may be necessary to extend the moratorium beyond March. He indicated that it would not be hard to get the County Commission to agree to this. However the P&Z commission members expressed doubt about doing this, and Mr. Springfield responding that his department can meet the present schedule.

3. Individual wells cannot be feasibly metered by the county.

4. For ESCAFCA to do its work it needs to consider some taking of property in certain cases. But ESCAFCA resists using this power.

Additional P&Z business:

Prior to the discussion of the Area Plan, there was a public hearing regarding a request for Family Transfer Land Division in Placitas. The land to be divided is approximately 1.9 acres, and the covenants in that subdivision prohibit division for lots less than 2 acres. Some neighbors spoke in opposition to this division, on grounds involving both the covenants and water issues. The commission and county attorney made it clear that the county cannot enforce covenants, though it is very sympathetic to communities trying to enforce them. The commission approved the division, but the owner was strongly advised to work this out with his neighbors before proceeding.

The commission’s approval demonstrates that CCRs are not complete protection to a community against certain requests by property owners. This makes it all the more important that the zoning ordinances, specifically as it relates to the Area Plan, be firm and definite enough that what they allow is not far from the spirit of the CCRs.

For more information on the Placitas Area Plan, including commentary and meeting dates, please visit www.oneplacitas.com.

 


 

Sandoval County Commission Chairman Don Leonard

Sandoval County Commissioner Don Leonard

Sandoval County Line

—Don Leonard, Sandoval County

Commission Chairman

Sometimes, some things in life really are free—even transit service that already is saving residents time and money as they commute to work, school, and appointments.

As a way to demonstrate the usefulness and convenience of the Sandoval County Easy Express, or SEE, the County Commission is waiving the $1 fare for the rural transit system’s routes that transport commuters to and from the County’s park-and-ride facility and the Rail Runner’s US 550 station in Bernalillo.

But hurry—the free service will continue only from February 2 through May 1 and is limited to commuters and residents who use the SEE’s Rail Runner Commuter Runs along routes 1A, 3B and 22B. Those are the SEE routes that provide door-to-door service between the County’s La Plazuela park-and-ride facility just northwest of Idalia and NM 528 and the train’s Sandoval County station at US 550 and I-25 in Bernalillo.

In addition to proving how beneficial and convenient the SEE commute can be, the free offer hopefully will help ease concerns of residents. I and other Commissioners have received phone calls from residents who tell us they want to use the Rail Runner to commute to Santa Fe or Albuquerque but are worried they won’t have a place to park their cars because the train station parking lots are often full due to the train’s phenomenal levels of passengers.

As SEE riders already know, the service offers stress-free service and there are never worries about finding a parking space at the Rail Runner station. We believe that a free trial of the SEE service will prove to even more commuters just how convenient and easy it is to park at the County’s park-and-ride facility and catch the SEE to the Rail Runner.

The SEE is not new. Residents throughout the County have been discovering the SEE’s advantages since it was launched almost two years ago to provide rural public transportation in southern Sandoval County and communities along the Jemez, Cuba, and I-25 corridors.

Like passengers on the Rail Runner, SEE riders, too, realize the bus transit system is a practical way to commute to work, school, and elsewhere while also easing traffic congestion and reducing the adverse environmental impacts of single occupancy vehicles. Like the Rail Runner, the SEE also helps County residents and commuters save energy and lower their commuting costs, relieve driver stress, and slow wear and tear on family vehicles.

For detailed route information and arrival and departure times for the SEE, go on the Internet to www.sandovalcounty.com or www.riometro.org, or call the SEE info line at 1-877-660-1110. Information on the New Mexico Rail Runner Express, meanwhile, is available at www.nmrailrunner.com.

I want to thank my fellow commissioners for electing me to chair the Commission again this year. I also congratulate Orlando Lucero on being elected this year’s Vice Chairman and I welcome Darryl Madalena and Glenn Walters as the newly-elected members of the board. They, along with Commissioner David Bency and I, have a deep, ingrained passion for Sandoval County and all of us who are fortunate to live in one of our nation’s most culturally diverse areas.

While I’m not new to the Chairman’s job, having served as chair in 2007 and as vice chairman in 2006, the coming year will continue to offer tremendous challenges and opportunities. As chairman, I will focus on critical issues affecting all County residents.

Questions or comments for Commissioner Leonard can be mailed to him in care of Sandoval County Administrative Offices, PO Box 40, Bernalillo, NM 87004.

     

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