BELEN — The city of Belen just got a little bigger and has the ability to secure additional businesses all while neighbors objected.

The Belen City Council approved annexing 5.84 acres of land on the I-25 Bypass and Edmundo Road. Along with annexing the piece of land, the council also changed the zoning — which was previously designated residential/agricultural by Valencia County — to commercial 2.

Councilors Danny Bernal Jr. and Steve Holdman voted in favor, while Councilor Frank Ortega voted against. Councilor Yvette Padilla was not at the July 5 meeting.

The applicant, Jonathan Trujillo, who is buying the land in question, had initially requested the property be rezoned to allow for a gated community with custom-built homes and a smaller area, 1.5 acres, for commercial development.

Steven Tomita, the city’s development services director, said after several hearings, the planning and zoning commissioners recommended the council approve the annexation and a C-2 zone change.

“This is a fantastic spot due to its proximity to businesses and I-25. Los Lunas has grown to capacity and the only place to grow now is in Belen,” Trujillo wrote in his application. “This site would be perfect for a restaurant or strip mall and meet the needs of the entire community.”

During the public hearing earlier this month, Trujillo told the council he has met with a developer in Los Lunas who is interested in the commercial property, which is now the entire 5.8 acres.

While there is interest by the commercial developer to place a business on the site, several nearby neighbors are not happy with the idea. Tomita said several people who live in the area attended all three P&Z meetings, opposing the application.

Councilor Frank Ortega said he was concerned that the city didn’t have its comprehensive plan updated, and wanted to know if there was an impact study on the project.

“I’m curious how this is going to affect the wastewater plant,” Ortega said. “What’s the quality of life for the residents out there? We need to listen to the residents.”

Michael Padilla, a resident off Edmundo Road, presented the council with a petition with about 80 signatures of residents who opposed Trujillo’s application. He also questioned who would want to develop a business on the property, which is, in part, behind an old single-wide trailer.

“We all see the trailer there,” Padilla said. “Who is going to want to build a business in back of that property. It doesn’t make sense.

“We still admire the agriculture of this area,” he said. “I just hope you listen to us.”

Another resident, Toni Barrow, addressed the council, saying she has lived in the area for 54 years.

“Belen was a metropolis back then, five groceries, five dealerships, etc.,” said Barrow of the area when she moved in. “We need to stay small, that’s the attraction. Mr. Tomita doesn’t live here and doesn’t understand farms.

“I’m not too sure at this point a commercial business would be an advantage. I would hate to see a concrete slab.”

John Nesslage, another resident, said he too is against the application, saying, “If they want to develop commercial, then move 100 years south.”

“I love our community; we are good neighbors to the city of Belen,” Schwitzer said. “We ask you be good neighbors to us. I am against this annexation.”

Tomita told the council the city’s current comprehensive plan identifies the I-25 Bypass as a commercial corridor, meaning the land is intended for business development.

“Currently, there is no development activity occurring on that land,” Tomita said, “and the city isn’t bound to follow the county’s existing land uses. It’s the governing body that has the ultimate say so, what best serves the city of Belen.”

Bernal asked if the petition contained any names of people who live within the city of Belen. Tomita said it didn’t.

“One of my concerns is the comprehensive plans,” Bernal said. “We can move forward with the current one, but we do need to update it as soon as possible.”

Tomita told the council the planning and zoning commission has been working on the plan, and has an outside firm helping.

“As far as I’m concerned is that area should be developed, and there is an interest by businesses,” Bernal added.

“I know one of the concerns is we’re not filling our vacancies in the city, but that’s because the interest isn’t here. The traffic isn’t coming in here, but it is at the I-25 Bypass.”

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Clara Garcia is the editor and publisher of the Valencia County News-Bulletin.
She is a native of the city of Belen, beginning her journalism career at the News-Bulletin in 1998 as the crime and courts reporter. During her time at the paper, Clara has won numerous awards for her writing, photography and typography and design both from the National Newspaper Association and the New Mexico Press Association.