BELEN — A shared community vision for how to grow and what will happen in the future are elements the city of Belen is looking for in its comprehensive plan.

The plan, also known as the master plan, determines where the city is now so they can develop long-range goals.

A town hall meeting was held Aug. 23, and was facilitated by Phyllis Taylor, the principal at Sites Southwest, the company contracted to help the city form the plan.

“We’ve been working for a few months, getting a plan formatted,” Taylor told the two dozen people in attendance at the town hall meeting. “We’re here not to tell you what you want the plan to say but to get input from you; what you’d like to see.”

Taylor said the state recommends a governing body update its master plan every five years, but it’s been since 2003 that the city has updated its comprehensive plan.

Before the town hall participants broke off into groups to talk about the strengths and weaknesses of the city, and where they’d like the future to look like, Taylor presented some statistical information about the city of Belen.

  • Population: 7,476
  • Median age: 38.9 years old
  • Ethnicity: 57 percent Hispanic
  • Median income: $36,601
  • Poverty rate: 21.7 percent for families
  • Housing: 86 percent occupied
  • Homeowner vacancy rate: 2.3 percent
  • Homeowner occupied: 81.5 percent
  • Top occupations: Education, retail, arts and entertainment, recreation

Taylor told the group her research demonstrates the city’s future land use is trending with commercial development along its corridors and growth toward the airport. The city has also proposed a planned community and future industrial development in the Rancho Cielo subdivision.

She also said residential properties are within a 10-minute walk of any park, saying the “interior of city is pretty well served; but not so much on the outer edge.”

“Eagle Park is big, important park, but where it is located, it doesn’t have ample access,” Taylor said.

She did say having a Rio Grande trail is a “real” opportunity as an amenity for people who live here.

“You have Whitfield on the east side, and former state park and education center on the west side,” Taylor said. “A trail system is mapped but it isn’t here. We could have a pretty nice layout of parks and trails by the river.”

When it came to the question, “What do you like best about living and working in Belen,” the audience had many answers:

  • Sense of community
  • Proximity: Compact community
  • Small community; tight-knit community
  • People, extremely friendly
  • Preservation of local culture
  • A lot of family-run businesses
  • Rich history
  • Easy to live here
  • Aspirations of growth
  • Downtown Belen
  • Intermodal transportation
  • Alternate transportation
  • Solar opportunities
  • Local traditions

As for the city’s challenges, the answers varied:

  • Land and property owners are generational, they’ve had properties for generations, and a lot of owners of vacant buildings live elsewhere. They don’t have the incentive to clean their property and want to sell them. Or if they do, it’s for more than it’s worth.
  • Lack of cleanliness
  • High percentage of poverty
  • Lack of housing
  • Code enforcement
  • Flooding

The participants were also asked to list areas of improvement and the top priorities the city should focus on:

  • Hotels
  • Attracting high-paying jobs
  • Housing
  • Recreation facility for ATVs
  • Greener Belen (energy, solar, wind, native planting)
  • Infrastructure (wastewater plant)
  • Land use and zoning
  • Local economy (expand manufacturing, trade school)

Taylor thanked the audience for attending the meeting, and said their suggestions will be very useful in the continued effort in developing the city’s comprehensive plan. Sites Southwest will continue to work with the city’s planning and zoning commission.

The ideas from the Aug. 23 meeting are being compiled into a new comprehensive plan, and a follow-up public meeting to get public input on plan priorities will be held from 6-7 p.m., Thursday, Sept. 22, at the Belen Public Library, 333 Becker Ave. Light refreshments will be provided.

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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.