LOS LUNAS — The village of Los Lunas has welcomed Alex Ochoa as its new community development director responsible for overseeing planning and zoning, economic development, code enforcement and animal control.  

“My role is supporting my staff in their roles, interpreting the zoning code and helping to write ordinances,” said Ochoa, an Albuquerque resident. “So really, it’s managing that sort of process from working with our consultants, working with our elected officials and then also the public.” 

Alex Ochoa
Los Lunas community development director

Ochoa first started working with the village in 2019 as a community planner. He then took on the role of community development director following the previous director, Erin Callahan, being promoted to deputy village administrator in October 2023.  

Ochoa received national certification from the American Institute of Certified Planners in 2022, which is regarded as a high recognition in his field. He is also a certified floodplain manager. 

“Here, in the village, surprisingly, we do have quite a large number of floodplains,” Ochoa said. 

The allure of working in a smaller town is what attracted Ochoa to working with the village of Los Lunas.  

“There’s a lot going on in those larger communities and it’s hard to make a reasonable impact,” said Ochoa. “Here, I feel like we have more of an ability to really get a project completed and, I feel, we have a little bit more of an impact on helping our community.”  

Ochoa attended the University of New Mexico, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in environmental planning and design and a master’s degree in community and regional planning in 2016. 

Ochoa said his interest in city planning began at a young age, and he credits a lot of this to an influential mentor he had while growing up. 

“His name is Jack Pickering. I’d go help him out with yard work, and he would talk to me a lot about the natural environment and the built environment and how those things kind of work together,” Ochoa said.   

With a strong background in geographic information systems, Ochoa worked with an environmental firm in Albuquerque that specializes in environmental and biological surveys. 

“I would do a lot of the mapping and GIS work for archaeologists specifically,” he said. “From there, I went to the city of Albuquerque for a little while, also doing mapping, and then I came to the village after that.” 

Ochoa said the work of a community development director varies daily, but what he finds most rewarding about the role is supporting staff and seeing them grow, as well as helping the community bring their developments to fruition within compliance of the zoning code.  

Code enforcement, Ochoa said, is one of the most difficult aspects of the role because of the contention that can arise between staff and the public.  

“For the most part, if code enforcement is making contact for any sort of reason, you know, there’s probably some sort of issue to address, so it’s not the best part of the job,” said Ochoa. “I think that there’s always a way to meet in the middle to where everybody’s happy, and that’s the role of our department is to make sure that we’re keeping the peace.” 

Ochoa said a common misunderstanding about planning and zoning is how much control they have on what businesses enter the village and where.  

“People will typically ask, ‘Why did you put that there?’ The thing is in our role as planners, we don’t typically put anything anywhere; we oversee what zoning is and zoning, on a very basic level, is separation of uses.”  

If a property owner wants to build an establishment, Ochoa said, they allow them to do so if it’s in compliance with the zoning code.  

“I think that’s something that people can misinterpret, at least what our role is in the development. So that’s really what we’re trying to manage is the separation of appropriate uses to support public welfare and health of the communities,” said Ochoa. “We just want to make sure that we are not having a toxic dump development in the middle of a neighborhood, for example.” 

Ochoa’s department’s biggest goal in the coming months is to complete the updated zoning code. 

The last major amendment to the zoning code was completed in 2001. According to the village website, the village is updating the code because, “the language has become outdated and lacks continuity, making the zoning code difficult to navigate, and out of compliance with New Mexico statutes.”  

The village is currently eliciting feedback from the public regarding the zoning code update and they are aiming to have it complete by this summer. Then in the next year or two, he expects they will begin to look at updating the village’s comprehensive plan, which is the overarching policy plan for the community that helps guide development.  

“What we look at (for the comprehensive plan) is future growth, future land use and what kind of projects and developments the community envisions 20 years in the future,” he said.  

Ochoa said they are also hoping to implement an online portal for development permits and business registrations, for example, to reduce paper waste and make the process more efficient.  

“Myself and my staff are always here to answer questions and help support the vision of the community, so we just want everybody to know that we’re available to help them,” he said. 

What’s your Reaction?

Felina Martinez was born and raised in Valencia County. She graduated from the University of New Mexico in 2021. During her time at UNM, she studied interdisciplinary film, digital media and journalism. She covers the village of Los Lunas, Los Lunas Schools, the School of Dreams Academy and the town of Peralta.