Sandoval Signpost

An Independent Monthly Newspaper Serving the Community since 1988

  Up Front

Crest of Montezuma folk

Kathy McCoy (Representative, NM District 22), Reid Bandeen (Las Placitas Association), Brad Stebelton (Sandoval County Planning Division), Sarah Cobb (Senator Tom A. Udall's office, NM District 3), Martin Heinrich (US Representative for the 1st Congressional District of NM), Dan Dennison (Las Placitas Association), Orin Safier (Las Placitas Association, Mitch Johnson (Pathways), Bill Lenoir (Diamond Tail resident)

Crest of Montezuma

Crest of Montezuma

The Crest of Montezuma, located northeast of the Village of Placitas, is a popular destination for outdoor enthusiasts. It is also a thriving wildlife corridor.

Placitans seek transfer of BLM land to U.S. Forest Service

—Ty Belknap, Signpost

A working group has been brought together from two separate organizations—Las Placitas Association and Pathways: Wildlife Corridors of New Mexico—for the purpose of advocating the transfer of the approximately 1,000 acres of land in Placitas known as the Crest of Montezuma from the Bureau of Land Management to the jurisdiction of the U.S. Forest Service (Cibola National Forest). Members of the group say that this transfer would provide better protection for this critical wildlife corridor under USFS management rules by keeping it free from commercial development and destructive recreational use by off-road vehicles while maintaining public access for low-impact uses such as pedestrian, equestrian, and mountain biking. The group will not pursue a more restrictive USFS Wilderness designation because the land does not meet the criteria.

The Crest of Montezuma is a colossal foothill located just northeast of the Village of Placitas, adjacent to the existing national forest that is part of the Sandia Ranger District. Some private land might also be included in the new USFS boundary (see map). The land is archeologically significant and provides a spectacular natural backdrop for land that has historically been sparsely developed for residential and agricultural purposes.

The process of seeking preservation of this land for open space began in 2003 during the height of the housing boom. Neighbors expressed concern that residential or commercial development would negatively impact the natural setting, so they looked for help and found the Trust for Public Land (TPL), a national nonprofit land conservation organization. The TPL met with Placitas residents and began discussions with the private landowners of the Crest about ways of protecting the land that would meet the needs all parties.

While BLM was interested in taking ownership, the agency did not have the funds to purchase the property within a time frame the landowners could accept. Some quick negotiating by TPL allowed Santo Domingo Pueblo to acquire the Crest property in November 2003. Santo Domingo held the property as a “conservation buyer” until they completed the exchange with BLM which was expected to take place in mid-2004.

As it turned out, the exchange took over three years to complete. BLM Albuquerque District Manager Ed Singleton told the Signpost that the process was delayed by real estate details and problems reconciling an old land grant survey. On August 16, 2007, the Bureau of Land Management released a Notice of Decision for the Santo Domingo Land Exchange.

During the time it took to iron out the details of the exchange, the BLM formed a loose partnership with Sandoval County to manage the land as open space. The county acquired seven acres of private land adjacent to the Crest and announced intentions to provide access to the property. A trailhead with an informational kiosk and restrooms were proposed, as well as construction of a new trail to existing trails on the first bench of the Crest. The BLM also planned to reduce hazardous fuel loading to protect the national forest and nearby subdivisions from wildfires. BLM officials said at the time that they planned to work with residents to create a plan to protect wildlife habitat and allow for low-impact recreational use.

The plans were put on hold when the BLM began the public process of updating the Rio Puerco Resource Management Plan (RMP) in 2008. Open space advocates were dismayed when the BLM announced that the Crest would join the other two BLM parcels near Placitas in the grab bag that would be sorted out by the RMP revision. It could be mined, drilled, driven, or developed. The planning process included extensive public input that called for preservation—so the Crest might well end up being open space as originally planned. Unfortunately, residents will have to wait until the revision is completed in 2012 to find out—unless the land can be transferred to the USFS where the management policies are already in place.

This transfer will require an act of Congress. Representative Martin Heinrich told the Signpost, “Numerous residents from the Placitas area have contacted me about how best to protect and manage the Crest of Montezuma. I’ve visited the area and I am committed to making sure public lands in New Mexico are well managed and accessible to visitors. I will continue to work with local residents to make sure we reach these goals.” Advocates of the transfer hope that Heinrich will introduce the necessary legislation for the transfer if he is shown that such action is supported by his constituency.

Sandy Johnson of the Las Placitas Association says, “The BLM is not opposed to Forest Service management of the Crest and discussions between the two agencies regarding the transfer have begun.There will public forums at which community concerns will be addressed before the formal transfer can take place, but the community’s support for the transfer needs to be communicated to Congressmen Martin Heinrich now.”

A suggested format for written letters to Heinrich, as well as his address, can be found on the LPA website at issues.

Placitas Library Elevation

This photo shows both Phase I and Phase II, the completed library. Only Phase I, the right half of the photo beginning at the red wall, is being constructed now. Fundraising is ongoing.

Placitas Library

This photo shows the progress of Phase I. About 20 percent complete, the construction of the library is well under way.

Placitas Library

A dramatic view of the Sandias is framed by concrete and steel as construction of the Placitas Community Library reaches approximately 20 percent completion.



Placitas Community Library: A dream come true

—Bill Dunmire, PCL Board of Directors

Placitans have been watching with pride as foundations, walls, and now the roof of a handsome new edifice have gradually transformed a plot of open space along the highway just west of our fire station. The grand opening next February will mark a giant stride in expanding educational and leisure opportunities for those of us who make Placitas our home.

Indeed, the construction of a brand new library represents the most significant community development to unfold in Placitas in many years. Besides offering a full range of customary library services, the new building will become a community hub for all Placitans in the years ahead.

The Original Library

The story of public libraries in Placitas began in the early 1960s, even before Bernalillo had one, when a group of women from the village started collecting children’s books which were housed in a hallway of the then Placitas Elementary School. Adult books were added, and the library was moved to a small unoccupied space in a long-gone village structure. It was relocated two more times; the final site was a since-demolished building behind today’s elementary school.

After the school activated a library of its own in the early 80s, the public library was disbanded and the book collection was donated to various Sandoval County libraries or sold. A check of $1,000—all that remained from this first library venture—was donated to the Friends of the Placitas Library at the groundbreaking ceremony last March.

Interest is Renewed

When local resident Sue Strasia solicited interest for a replacement library six years ago, a new ball began to roll. Thanks to realtor Pepi Strahl, Sue and her team found available space—the little rental building (formerly an auto transmission shop) where the library is now housed. With donations of books and equipment, the library opened within a year. It was open three days a week and staffed by volunteers (as it still is).

Your Library Today

Year after year, the value of a local library became evermore apparent to Placitans, and our collections, patronage, and activities have grown apace. The collections increased from a few hundred volumes to nearly twenty thousand today, and patron visits climbed to some eight thousand this past year alone, to say nothing of extra services: your library now offers a monthly Spanish-English story time for young children, a bi-monthly story time for preschoolers, an intensive summer reading program for youth, two adult book discussion groups, a children’s book group, adult programs on various topics throughout the year, public access to computers, a photocopier service, and a host of other activities and services.

Everything is run by volunteers—some seventy of them signed on, including a number with graduate library/information science degrees. New Mexico accredited us as a full service public library last year. But it gradually became clear that our cramped 1,200-square-foot structure with no heat and rapidly diminishing book space was no longer adequate. The time had come to think big, to somehow acquire a “real” library building.

A Grand Plan Takes Shape

And so, backed by a community survey that expressed high priority for securing a permanent building, our board of directors approached Sandoval County. Led by then board president Strasia and Sandoval County Commissioner Bill Sapien, and with help from developer Tom Ashe, four acres of land adjacent to the fire station were purchased by the county for the library.

With the county acting as our fiscal agent, we successfully obtained large federal and state grants (thank you, Representative Kathy McCoy). That, plus some extraordinary gifts from individuals and corporations and generous donations from you, the Placitas community, enabled the library to reach its goal of raising one million dollars.

Then the fun began—identifying the essential elements to be included in the new library and drafting a building plan. Another community survey in 2007 provided helpful guidance, and with basic concepts in place, the following year Albuquerque architectural firm SMPC, with their long record of designing “green” public and educational facilities, was selected to develop a site and building plan. A building committee made up of community and board representatives was then formed to enlarge upon program specifics. More community meetings generated additional ideas.

Hart Construction won out the bidding for actual construction, and a groundbreaking ceremony last March kicked off the project. Board member Gail DellaPelle, working as a liaison between the county, architects, and board of directors, took on the monumental task of coordinating these developments, and she’s been a key player in making these dreams come true.

Your Library of the Future

With 3,300 square feet, your new library will more than double existing floor space. Thanks to a substantial gift from one generous-hearted Placitan, the library is going to feature a multipurpose community room which will seat forty and host everything from public meetings to art exhibits, book clubs, and children’s events—even during evening hours when the main part of the library is closed.

It is expected that this space will become the community information center. Try to envision several areas with seating, including a small walled-in garden portal outside, which will be designated for quiet reading. Ample space for children’s activities and programs, plus a small staff workroom, are also included in the plan.

As for books, shelf space will increase and be much easier to access. (Imagine: no more squeezing in tight aisles.) Five computers will also be available for public use.

The building and its parking for twenty-five vehicles will be professionally landscaped with native trees, shrubs, and wildflowers, providing an educational garden which eventually may include small interpretive labels and displays. In keeping with the energy-efficient and otherwise “green” structure, picture rainfall and snow-melt from the roof funneling into a tank for supplemental drip-system watering. Beyond the developed site, we anticipate creating a public natural area with short walking paths and benches.

There’s more to come. The library will soon be seeking financial support to complete Phase II of this project, which will double the collection space and provide a community room which will seat a hundred. A fund drive for Phase II will be launched later next year.

But for now, let’s all give one big hurrah for the consummation of a community dream—a full-fledged public library, the pride of Placitas.

Commission considers rezoning application

On September 17, the Sandoval County Commission heard the application for rezoning for Master Plan on the Cashwell property, in Placitas near the Fire Station on Highway 165. The major request was for residential clustering, with lots as small as 7500 square feet, which is approximately 1/6 acre. Some of the clustered housing could be on the ridge top.

By a vote of 4 to 1 the County Commission denied the application for rezoning. Commissioners Orlando Lucero and David Bency voiced the strongest objections. Both were concerned with details involving sewage treatment and also water. (By law, lots smaller than 3/4 acre require sewage treatment facilities.) Commissioner Lucero expressed concern that the application did not address the impacts on the Historic Village, Land Grant properties, and other neighboring communities. Commissioner Bency raised questions as to whether this residential-only plan was adequately consistent with the intent of Master Plan zoning, which typically includes support for non-residential uses. There was a large turn out of Placitas residents at the meeting to express their concerns about this application.

The residents who spoke out at the September 17, County Commission meeting objected to the Cashwell application on both procedural grounds and as regards to the nature of the proposed clustering.  Many Placitans voiced similar concerns that the nature of the “master plan” had changed from an emphasis on non-residential uses with some residences on larger lots, to clustered housing, and that this should not have been an amendment, but rather a totally new rezoning application, which would have required new public meetings. Another objection was to this being an application for cluster housing, a land use that is still not adequately defined in the zoning ordinances.

The original Master Plan application was submitted early in 2008, and included non-residential uses, such as offices, retail operations and public facilities, in sizeable portions of the property.  When that application was submitted to the County Planning and Zoning Commission in May, 2008, the decision was deferred until the Placitas Area Plan was completed. A moratorium was shortly thereafter placed on subdivision in Placitas, so that general planning for Placitas could first be done. During the Area Plan process it became clear that a majority of area residents felt there was no need for additional “commercial” nodes in Placitas, since those that already exist have yet to be fully utilized. Therefore, the County would not favor a rezoning of the property for even partially commercial uses.  In April of 2009 the agent for Mr. Cashwell, Insite Works, filed an “amended” application that contained no explicit request for commercial uses, only for some possible public facilities near to the Fire Station. But the application included approximately 14 acres near the highway as a “reserved” area, for which many suspected that the intention was to apply for commercial uses in the future. Also proposed in the “amended” application was up to 75 clustered housing units on approximately 13 acres, including on the ridge top.

In April, 2009, the County Planning and Zoning Commission voted to recommend the rezoning application to the County Commission, with conditions. Among those conditions was that any clustering allowed on the property would have to be in accord with the Area Plan and whatever zoning ordinances resulted from adoption of the Area Plan. Though there was a general statement regarding clustering in the Area Plan, it included no details as to the minimum lot size, the minimum parcel size, whether or not clustering would be allowed on ridge tops, and other crucial issues. Those matters were to be fleshed out in the zoning ordinances, which as of yet have not been adopted.

County Line

—Don E. Leonard, Sandoval County Commission Chairman

The arrival of tax bills is as predictable as autumn’s blowing leaves and cooler weather. This year’s bills also are certain to spark dinner-table talks.

Property tax rates set by the State Department of Finance and Administration were approved the County Commission on September 10. The rates include the new hospital tax of 4.25 mills—or $141.67 for a home assessed at $100,000 and having a one-third taxable value of $33,333.

The tax to support hospitals in Sandoval County was mandated by a majority of the 53,421 voters who cast ballots in last year’s November election. The voter-initiated hospital tax will generate about $13.8 million this year, which will be used to support contracting hospitals being built in Sandoval County, specifically UNM and Presbyterian.

The County Treasurer’s office is preparing about 110,000 bills for mailing in early November to everyone owning property in Sandoval County. Payment for the first one-half of 2009 taxes is due by December 10. The second half is due by May 10, 2010.

As required by law, the Treasurer collects taxes imposed by all taxation authorities in Sandoval County—cities and villages, schools, CNM, “specials” such as improvement districts and flood control agencies, and even the State of New Mexico. Only a small portion of the taxes that Sandoval County collects—less than twenty cents of each dollar—is allocated for County programs and services. The bulk of the taxes—more than eighty percent—is channeled directly to schools, municipal governments, and other taxing entities.

The tax rate for Sandoval County government is the same no matter where you live in the County—$193.63 for a home assessed at $100,000 and having a one-third taxable value of $33,333. Likewise, the amount Sandoval County property owners will pay in State taxes is the same statewide, about $38 for a $100,000 home.

Other components of the bill, meanwhile, vary greatly from city to city, among school districts and other agencies. Those variables are beyond the County Commission’s oversight but do mean that tax bills, too, will vary from one area of Sandoval County to another.

Based on a home valued at $100,000, property taxes in Rio Rancho will be about $1,097, or $150 more than last year. Taxes on the same-valued property outside the City of Rio Rancho but within the Rio Rancho School District will be $830, or $146 more. In Bernalillo, owners of a $100,000 home will see a tax bill of $849 or $156 more, while taxes on an equally-valued home in Placitas or Algodones and within the Bernalillo School District will be $761 or $154 more. These amounts do not include taxes that may be due for localized “special” taxing entities as SSCAFCA, ESCAFCA, and others.

In Jemez Springs, taxes on a $100,000 home will be $888, an increase of $162. Taxes on the same-valued home in San Ysidro will be $937 or an increase of $156. Owners of a $100,000 home in Cuba will pay $914, or $154 more, while taxes on the same-valued home in the unincorporated areas of the Jemez Mountains will receive a bill for $759, an increase of $159.

Taxes on a $100,000 home in most of Corrales will be $908 or $141 more than last year, while homeowners in that portion of Corrales recently annexed from Bernalillo County will pay $916, or a reduction of $82.

While the County’s portion of property tax rates dipped slightly last year, the new tax rate is almost to the penny what homeowners paid for County services two years ago and almost five percent less than what was paid for County services and programs back in 2005. That stabilization of the County’s operational tax rate is a direct reflection of prudent management and efficient, quality service that County employees deliver each and every day.

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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