Construction is ongoing for the new Rio Rancho
City Hall building, planned to be the heart of a bustling economic
city center that is now home only to sparse population and blowing
The new Santa Ana Star Center is home to the New
Mexico Scorpions hockey team and offers a new event arena space
to the Albuquerque area.
Inside the Santa Ana Star Center, the hockey rinks
ice is covered with insulating boards to prepare the arena for a
New city center is focus of Rio Rancho’s vision
The second-level windows of the New Santa Ana Star Center provide
a panoramic view of the future of Rio Rancho. To see it, one needs
to share some of the City of Vision’s vision, because right
now there is a lot of empty space. Rio Rancho Communications and
Civic Outreach Division manager Peter Wells took the Signpost staff
on a tour that shared some of the vision.
The center is so named because Santa Ana Star Casino was top bidder
for naming rights. It is seen as the economic engine behind the
city’s push to develop not only as a population center, but
to become an entertainment and sports destination. It is home to
the New Mexico Scorpions hockey team and perhaps soon will house
an arena football team. A concert last month grossed $500,000.
To the north, the city hall is under construction—scheduled
for completion in July of 2007. West of city hall, the main street
leads to fifty acres designated for Lion’s Gate Studios. East
of city hall is 436 acres for a new University of New Mexico campus
that would be the third largest in the state. Wells said that since
the downtown area is starting from scratch, conscious decisions
can be made about how it will develop. “It will be pedestrian
friendly with shops, restaurants, and movie theaters,” he
Southeast of the Santa Ana Star Center will be the new $45 million
high school, surrounded by residential areas. Looking out toward
Sandia Mountain, the entire desert bordered by NM 528 and US 550,
from the river to the top of the escarpmentand beyond, is envisioned
to be totally developed by multiple uses.
Rio Rancho has come a long way since Amrep bought ranchland from
Bruce King in 1962. Propelled initially by international land-speculation
schemes, Amrep stock prices have skyrocketed. The concept of providing
affordable housing to a growing and westward-moving population,
supported and promoted by local and state government seems to have
produced limitless possibilities for developers and consumers alike.
The remarkable development of Rio Rancho has not come without
some growth pains. Traffic to New Mexico Scorpions games at the
center is backed up at a road construction bottleneck at Unser and
Northern boulevards. City officials assure the public that traffic
access will improve as the demand increases. They suggested that
fans use back roads past the county landfill.
That demand is only part of the pressure developing in city hall.
New Mayor Kevin Jackson expressed doubts about city manager Jim
Palenick’s vision for the city—particularly about the
size and importance of a deal he worked out with Las Vegas-based
LWP, Inc., to develop eighty acres of downtown. Last month the city
council voted unanimously to fire Palenick, considered by many to
be the man behind the city’s vision. Could they be getting
Peter Wells said, “The city is reviewing the deal with LWP
and may look at other options, but city staff and elected officials
are proceeding with plans and progressing toward the vision of downtown
Former mayor Jim Owen said that things in city government are
not as they seem. On the subject of Mayor Jackson, he was quoted
in the Albuquerque Journal, "Every time Jackson's lips move,
he lies. He does not know how not to lie." According to the
article, Jackson said he would not stoop to Owen’s level and
that, “In order to go forward we need a more collaborative
approach in city hall.”
Bob Johnson, Foundation for Open Government executive director,
said if the mayor had told councilors about his plans to get rid
of Palenick before they voted to fire him, his collaborative approach
would be a violation of the open meetings act.
Last month the city council also approved a resolution asking
for something to be done promptly to relieve the rush-hour gridlock
on US 550. The town of Bernalillo has suffered the brunt of the
traffic assault. Initially the town expected to profit from gross-receipts
taxes garnered by businesses on US 550, but now drivers risk further
delays if they dare move out of the flow. The Sandoval County Commission
voted last month to look into temporarily fixing the problem by
eliminating the median and/or increasing the number of lanes in
the direction of the morning or evening rush. Speeding the flow
of traffic in this manner would further detract from businesses
in the corridor.
In last month’s County line, commission chairman Jack Thomas
called for a highway through Santa Ana Pueblo, prompting letters
to the editor in this month’s Gauntlet by outraged tribal
members. The tribal council has not taken a position publically,
but they are in the difficult position of being heavily invested
in the area’s development. They paid top dollar to have the
name of their casino added to the events center. Will Rio Rancho’s
eminent domain move on to a manifest destiny created by market demand?
The answer to this question may depend on requested legislative
funding for traffic solutions. A northwest loop would shift traffic
toward I-40 west of Albuquerque. Ideally, following the vision,
this loop would also connect to I-25. Having learned from past experience,
the developers know that if they build it, somebody will pay for
Tijeras preserves wildlife crossing
The Tijeras Village Council approved an expansion plan for A-1 Self-storage
that preserves an important Interstate 40 wildlife crossing.
Neighboring landowner Charlie Thomas, who brought the issue to
the villages’s attention, said he was satisfied the agreement
would safeguard the crossing.
Thomas said he got involved because Santa Fe businessman Murray
Brott’s initial plan would have closed off a ravine and large
culvert used by coyotes, bears, and other wildlife to travel under
The state’s Department of Transportation plans to install
wildlife fencing along the entire length of the interstate trough
tijeras Canyon as part of its reconstruction of the heavily traveled
corridor Thomas and other advocates say preserving the few places
where wildlife can safely cross from one side of the canyon to the
other is important.
The council on Monday approved Brott’s expansion plan for
the facility with several conditions, including that he obtain agreements
from Thomas for emergency access and for a land swap that would
preserve the wildlife crossing.
“With the fence up, animals are going to be forced to use
the tunnel,” Thomas said, adding that in one five-mile stretch
from Tijeras to Zuzax,”All the animals are going to come through
Tijeras canyon safe Passage Coalition co-chair Kurt Menke said
further study was needed to determine where existing crossings and
hot spots for animal-vehicle collisions are.
Reconstruction of the interstate between Carnuel and Tijeras began
last summer and is scheduled to resume in the spring. Reconstruction
of the segment from Tijeras to Zuzax come next.
Reprinted from the December 20 issue of The
Artist’s rendering of the proposed Flying
Star’s Plaza de Las Huertas, in Bernalillo
Flying Star lands in Bernalillo
At the December 11 meeting, by a vote of three to one, the Bernalillo
Town Council approved an appeal by the developers of the Flying
Star restaurant, Mark and Jeanne Bernstein, for a zone change from
retail commercial to special use. The zone change had previously
been denied by the Bernalillo Planning and Zoning Commission. The
main contention with the development seemed to be the height of
some of the planned buildings.
The Bernsteins may now move forward with the construction of Plaza
de Las Huertas, which includes a 169-seat Flying Star restaurant,
twelve one-thousand-square-foot retail spaces and twelve eighteen-hundred-square-foot
residential “lofts,” six of which will be three stories
and exceed the town height limitations of thirty feet by five feet.
Plaza de Las Huertas will be situated between Calle Evangeline and
Calle de Escuela, on Camino Del Pueblo, just one block south of
its intersection with US 550.
Albuquerque architect Edward Fitzgerald began the presentation
of his design for the complex with photographs of Taos Pueblo, the
portal of the Governor's Mansion, on the Plaza in Santa Fe, the
T&T-TaGrMo building, and an adobe barn in the Zócalo
Complex, adjacent to the future building site. He used some of these
vernacular elements in creating the design for the development,
“especially,” he said, “the reticulation of the
skyline of the loft units.”
Some members of the Planning and Zoning Commission who were in
attendance whispered among themselves throughout the presentation
and pointed out that they had recommended that the developers come
back with a redesign consisting of only two-story dwellings.
Town Planning and Zoning director Kelly Moe, explained to the council
that a developer may or may not consider the commission's recommendations
in their appeal to the council. He further added that this development
was “the best that the town could wish for” and “the
best I have seen in my career.”
Several citizens spoke against the development, citing concerns
about the height of the buildings, as well as traffic and parking
Mayor Patricia Chávez and the council questioned the developers
and Moe for more than twenty minutes, when councilor Ronnie Sisneros
stated that he backed the plan as presented. Councilor Santiago
Montoya agreed and made a motion to approve the zone change. Councilor
Sisneros seconded the motion. In a roll-call vote, Councilor Eddie
Torres voted no, councilors Montoya and Sisneros, yes, and Councilor
Marian Jaramillo went back and forth, saying she wanted to vote
“yes for the project, no for the height.” Town attorney
George Perez advised her that she could only vote one way, at which
point she closed her eyes and voted yes.
Two other public hearings took place at the meeting on December
11. The first involved a conditional-use permit to allow a landscape-materials
business to display their products on a residential property. The
property is across an irrigation ditch from the former site of AAA
Gas and the Bernalillo branch of First Community Bank.
Neighbor Alex Chavez complained loudly about the conduct of the
gravel business and the proceedings of the council meetings. He
was eventually escorted from the meeting by a Bernalillo town police
officer. The council passed the conditional-use permit unanimously.
The other hearing concerned the review of another conditional-use
permit for a larger gravel business on the west side of the river.
Neighbors complained that JPR Decorative Gravel, Inc., conducted
business for longer hours, and with trucks and machines that were
bigger, than allowed by the permit. They also stated that this summer's
flooding was exacerbated by a retaining wall built by JPR, damaging
their road and property. The council reapproved the permit by unanimous
vote, but advised the owners of JPR Gravel to curtail their business
County approves traffic fix
The Sandoval County Commission meeting on December 14 yielded a
new twist to the traffic problems for NM 550 through Bernalillo.
Proposal 8-C is a motion to allow the town of Bernalillo to promptly
design and construct capacity improvements for NM 550 from the I-25
turn off to SR 528.
Resolution No. 12-7-06.8C gives Bernalillo approval to immediately
improve the I-25-to-SR-528 corridor to alleviate traffic during
specific peak hours. According to the county, the only proposal
that they had received from any source is to re-stripe the roads
to add lanes during high-volume traffic times. This will include
adding a carpool lane during these peak times in the morning and
again in the afternoon. The multi-passenger commuter lane will operate
from 7:00 to 9:00 in the morning, giving a full three lanes to eastbound
traffic with the afternoon traffic reaping the same benefits from
4:00 to 6:00 p.m. Opposing traffic will be allowed only one lane
during these peak times, which should not pose a problem with traffic
flow. The motion to approve this was originally tabled during the
first session, to further study the effects of the proposal and
to get feedback from the town on this matter.
Commissioner Jack Thomas said, “if we don't do something
now, we never will.” Bernalillo has always been in favor of
the motion; however, Commissioner William Sapien was again opposed,
pending further study. The motion to approve passed four-to-one
with Commissioner Sapien being the only no vote.
Comments from the public were mostly positive, yet expressed concerns
about traffic flowing into the residential areas to avoid the congestion
if something was not done soon. Commissioner Thomas stated that
this improvement will fix the traffic problem for the next five
During the meeting on December 21, Elizabeth McDermott, from Sandoval
Education Services, requested funding approval in the amount of
$191,060 for the implementation of a living laboratory in all Sandoval
County school districts utilizing the county's new broadband project.
The project is designed to improve the reading skills of second-to-twelfth-grade
students by implementing a computerized model provided by a company
called Achieve 3000, Inc. The model utilizes current events as the
primary reading materials, accessing Reuters, the AP wire, and other
on-line sources in a fully interactive environment where the student
has to participate as well as implement certain tasks to complete
assignments. Commissioner Bency spoke very highly of the project;
however, he had some concerns about the broadband reaching everyone
throughout the county. McDermott assured the commissioners that
as it is a pilot project, initiating it would provide the opportunity
to find any discrepancies or problems and make arrangements to correct
them as needed. The commissioners voted five to zero to approve.
Commissioner Joshua Madalena requested that Resolution No. 12-21-06.9,
for the purchase of seven-hundred-plus acres of land surrounding
the Jemez State Monument be approved for the purpose of preservation.
His concern was that land developers are buying much of the land
leading up to the monument and would eventually purchase these seven
hundred acres as well. No price tag was discussed, however, and
the resolution passed without further comment.
County line—Easing traffic congestion
—JACK THOMAS, CHAIRMAN, SANDOVAL COUNTY COMMISSION
While it may be only natural to reflect on the past as we enter
a new year, I'd like to look ahead at our county's future as one
of the fastest growing areas in the nation.
The transportation projects we have launched across our region
are among the many initiatives that we have undertaken to best position
our county and communities for the coming years.
Railrunner Express, the regional light-rail train system that the
commission helped fund two years ago, has quickly become a highly
attractive transportation alternative for many county residents.
Service from Bernalillo to Albuquerque already has proven a tremendous
success and the rail just recently was extended to Los Lunas. Railrunner
will reach Belen in a matter of weeks and is on schedule to begin
service to Santa Fe in late 2008.
To help our residents travel within our county, one of our top
priorities for the coming legislative session is to obtain $2.8
million to fully develop a county-wide mass transit system. That
system will provide fixed-route access from the Jemez, Cuba, NM
528, and I-25 corridors to the Railrunner station in Bernalillo
and interconnect with regional bus service.
Both the train and the county's mass transit system are vital to
our future and will spur economic development and ease worsening
traffic congestion—especially along NM 528, US 550, and the
county's entrances to Interstate 25.
The commission also is seeking legislative funding to begin construction
of the north-south loop road west of Rio Rancho and Albuquerque.
The road will become a major transportation and economic development
corridor connecting I-40 and I-25 via US 550 and will ultimately
extend south from I-40 to connect with I-25 at Los Lunas.
To help ease traffic flow along US 550 through Bernalillo, we
have brainstormed several workable solutions with Rio Rancho, Bernalillo,
the Mid-Region Council of Governments and the state department of
transportation. Just last month, the commission enacted a resolution
urging the state to begin aggressive design and construction of
improvements along the US 550 roadway.
One immediate solution would be to remove the medians along US
550 from NM 528 east to I-25 and turn the vital road into a six-lane
highway. For a longer-term solution to ease heavy traffic throughout
the entire metropolitan region, the county has been in discussions
with the Pueblo of Santa Ana regarding access across pueblo land
for a road to intersect I-25 north of Bernalillo and continue west
to connect with the proposed north-south loop.
To defer needs for additional landfill space and also help municipalities
and pueblos deal with the increasing costs of disposing of sewer
sludge, the commission hopes to obtain legislative funding of $1.5
million to construct the $3 million second phase of our waste-conversion
and -composting facility.
Once the plant's second phase is operating, the county will begin
accepting sewer sludge, at considerable savings to municipalities
and pueblos, and then process the waste into compost and fertilizer
in a highly economical and environmental-friendly manner.
The plant uses proven technology. Its first phase already is diverting
more than twenty thousand cubic yards annually from the county landfill
by processing green and construction waste into soil-enhancement
Another critical endeavor undertaken by the commission that offers
great opportunities for residents is the creation of a county-wide
broadband system that we began in 2004. Broadband communications
and the ability to transport large amounts of data closes the technology
gap between rural and urban residents. It will open access for all
county residents to quality medical care, increased educational
opportunities, and new economic opportunities.
The county commission elects a new chair each January. Even though
I will step down as chairman, I will continue working as a commissioner
to serve my constituents and our county's surging population. I
wish to extend my deep appreciation to our residents, my fellow
commissioners, and all county employees for the service continue
to bring year after year.
Questions or comments for Commissioner Thomas can
be mailed to him in care of Sandoval County Administrative Offices,
P.O. Box 40, Bernalillo, NM 87004.