Residents of the San Clemente community, west of the village of Los Lunas, rallied to push back against a recent zoning request they say will be detrimental to the area, making sure their voices will be heard as the project moves forward.

While a zone change from outland district to light/general industrial (I-2) was approved by the Valencia County commissioners on nearly 150 acres, it came with the caveat that site plans for future development go through a public process.

The property, owned by Roy D. Mercer, LLC, is comprised of 116.3 acres that stretches along the N.M. 6, starting east of AT&T Road and continuing west beyond Gallo Road. An additional 30 acres made up of three 10-acre lots abuts the south side of the larger property.

The proposed use of the property under the new zoning is for warehouses and laydown yards, according to Mike Mechenbier, managing member of the company. At the March 15 county commission meeting, as well as the Jan. 24 county planning and zoning commission meeting, Mechenbier said he has no intention to bring manufacturing to the property, even though the I-2 zoning allows for such a use.

Maureen Ryan, who lives on York Lane to the south of the property, raised that issue.

Developer Mike Mechenbier talks to residents of the San Clemente neighborhood about his plans for property owned by one of his companies in their area. (Julia M. Dendinger | News-Bulletin photo)

“Manufacturing is allowed under the ordinance — manufacturing of machine tools, mobile homes, dental tools. Sound carries for miles out there,” Ryan said. “Beyond the developer’s vision has to be consideration for the community and impact on the residential neighborhood.”

Several neighbors in the area of York Lane and Kokopelli Trail voiced concerns about disruption to the peace and quiet of the community, light pollution and obstruction of views, as well as traffic safety on N.M. 6.

The property sits south of the highway, across from the village’s solid waste transfer station, where the roadway crests the hill as it comes west out of the valley.

“When you come to the top of the hill, you’re less than an eighth of a mile from AT&T Road,” said Kenneth Best, referring to one of the only existing access roads into the property off the highway. “We don’t have a left turn lane. If you want to get off of (N.M.) 6 and turn left, you have the option to sit on the shoulder and wait, or hope those semis, who are already doing 60 … can stop when they get to the top of the hill.

“I understand change is coming, but I would like to see a traffic study before this is voted on.”

John Kirkpatrick, a local architect acting as Mechenbier’s agent for the project, told the commission the current amount of traffic generated by residents wasn’t enough for a turn lane on the highway.

“For our properties, we will have to comply with all the requirements from the state,” Kirkpatrick said. “We don’t have a (site) plan yet so we don’t know what development will come. When we do begin actual development, that will have to go through the rigors of (the state department of transportation) as well as the local standards of the county.”

Penny York, who lives on York Lane, said she and her neighbors weren’t against progress or Mechenbier.

“We are here to preserve what we have as a community — dark skies and plenty of stars … it’s very quiet. Sometimes you can hear the trains or the yip of coyote,” York said. “We have spring winds and dust from areas stripped of natural vegetation, monsoons and tumble weeds.

“If this is approved, we would like to see plans for landscaping, the building colors — grey, green and earth tones. There needs to be consideration of height, lighting, sound barriers. Personally, I ask you to deny this. The community has much to lose and very little to gain.”

Mechenbier objected to the idea his development would be harmful to the community, pointing out he owns much of the property in the vicinity.

“We don’t do crappy development,” he said. “I’m the largest landowner out there and I’m not going to do something to deteriorate properties I own.”

After an executive session to discuss Mechenbier’s request and other matters on the agenda, Commissioner Joseph Bizzell made a motion to approve the zone change with the stipulation that the site plan review undergo a Type B process.

When property is developed, site plans are typically reviewed and approved by county staff — a Type A process. The Type B process takes the site plan review to a public hearing before the county planning and zoning commission and allows for public input. Bizzell’s motion was approved 4-0.

Commissioner Troy Richardson, who is Mechenbier’s son-in-law, did not participate in the public hearing on the zone change request, leaving the commission room while Mechenbier and community members gave testimony.

Richardson also sat out the portion of the executive session during which the request was discussed by the commission and county attorneys. He did not vote on the motion to approve the zone change request.

The time frame for those hearings is unknown at this time since there isn’t a specific tenant seeking to develop on Mechenbier’s property.

When that happens, the site plan review will be put on a P&Z agenda, which will be available to the public 72 hours before the commission meets. The county P&Z commission meets at 3 p.m. on the fourth Tuesday of every month at the county administration building, 444 Luna Ave., Los Lunas.

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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.