RIO COMMUNITIESA requested zone change for more than 300 acres on the south side of the city of Rio Communities continues to get push back from a handful of city residents.  

“What kind of ‘no’ do you not understand? The ‘n’ or the ‘o’,” asked resident Dick Irvine at a public hearing on the rezone requests held Monday evening before the Rio Communities City Council. “Over a year ago, this was brought to us and we were very vehemently opposed and still are.” 

A zone change application by Playa Vista Group — comprised of property owners Cibola Land Corporation, Abo Viejo Investments and Felipe Sanchez, which have 60, 30 and 10 percent ownership interest, respectively — has requested the rezone of 39 acres abutting N.M. 304 and 24 acres on N.M. 47 (Rio Communities Boulevard) from planned development to C-2, and 268 acres between the two state highways from planned development to the new business manufacturing designation.  

“I don’t think the permissive uses (in the BM zoning) are defined enough,” said Irvine, one of eight residents to speak against the requests. “They are very vague … You have the cart before the horse.” 

He continued, saying through multiple presentations the applicants haven’t indicated what specific businesses would build on the property or even then types of companies they might solicit. 

Vikki Everett, an urban planning associate with Albuquerque-based architecture firm Dekker Perich Sabatini, told the council the applicants hadn’t recruited any specific businesses for the development. She added companies have expressed interest, but they couldn’t do anything because the current zoning — planned development — didn’t permit their desired use. 

Part of the plan includes the possibility of a rail spur coming into the larger parcel from the south, Everett said, but it is entirely conceptual at this point, needing to go through both state and federal applications as well as permissions from BNSF. 

“These would be trains that would carry freight and not moving at full speed,” Everett said. “It would mostly be for moving freight within the area itself.” 

In her presentation, Everett said there would be 300 feet of buffer on the north side of the business manufacturing zone — a 100-foot green belt, a 100-foot road right of way and 100-foot business manufacturing buffer to push any manufacturing away from homes and residential properties to the north of the property. The plan also proposes to leave a buffer of 46 acres zoned PD on the northern side of the acreage. 

“Business manufacturing requires a 300-foot buffer between the edge of the lot and existing PD,” she said. “To accommodate that, we are going to push it out as far as we can. The geometry of the rail spur is not set in stone. If companies decide to move in and even desire a rail spur, they still have to go through the (state and federal) process to request one.”

Image courtesy of Dekker Perich Sabatini
Follow this link for the full presentation and other documents pertaining to the zone change requests: Playa Zone Change Packet (4-1-24)

City resident Maria Gonzales said residents didn’t “want this in our backyard. It’s visually ugly. Look at Los Lunas when they cleared out large areas it was nothing but dust. We are going to be surrounded by dust for years. If you think this is what people really want, put it on the ballot and let everyone in this community have a vote.” 

At the suggestion of Councilor Matthew Marquez, the council voted unanimously to continue the public hearings on the three requests and hear additional testimony on the matter at a special meeting starting at 6 p.m., Tuesday, April 16. 

City attorney Cori Strife said members of the public can submit written comments to the city manager or council members through April 16, if they are unable to make the meeting. 

“This is not closing the public hearing. It is a continuation,” Strife said. “This is another opportunity for the public to participate in the same public hearing.” 

After Monday’s meeting adjourned, Strife did clarify that while members of the public can address the councilors during public comment at the regular April 8 meeting and offer their opinion on the zone changes, those comments would not be part of the official record for the public hearing. 

“They can absolutely address the council on non-agenda items, but to be part of the record they should attend the April 16 meeting or send their comments in writing,” the attorney said. 

The Rio Communities Planning and Zoning Commission voted 4-0 at its March 7 meeting, recommending the three applications move forward to the city council for public hearing. The commission did not make a recommendation for approval or denial of the zone change requests. 

This zone change request is a near carbon copy of one brought in January 2023 by Cibola Land Corporation, which asked for the more intensive zone changes of Industrial 3 on the larger parcel and Commercial 3 on the two smaller pieces. 

Residents of the city and surrounding area pushed back, and after multiple public hearings with standing-room only crowds, Cibola withdrew its application in April.  

Since then, the city has reworked it’s zoning code to eliminate heavy industrial and create business manufacturing, which allows for a wide variety of light manufacturing, assembly, commercial processing, storage, packaging, compounding and wholesaling as well as distribution operations.

Follow this link for the full presentation and other documents pertaining to the zone change requests: Playa Zone Change Packet (4-1-24)

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Julia M. Dendinger began working at the VCNB in 2006. She covers Valencia County government, Belen Consolidated Schools and the village of Bosque Farms. She is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists Rio Grande chapter’s board of directors.