A baker’s dozen of residents from the small farming community of Pueblitos voiced their staunch opposition to a proposed rezone that would allow a Dollar General retail store to be built in their community. 

Calling the proposed development a “cancer” and a “monstrosity,” residents argued during the Feb. 27 Valencia County Planning and Zoning Commission meeting  the store would bring more crime, increase traffic on the two lane highway through the agricultural area, leading to more crashes and fatalities and exacerbate flooding in the neighborhood. 

The commission ultimately voted 5-0 to recommend denial of the zone change request brought by Overland Engineering.  

The planning and zoning commission is only a recommending board in regards to zone changes, and the application will go forward to the Valencia County Commission for a second public hearing and vote on the request. A date for that meeting has not been set. 

The zone change request application was filed in September 2023, but Overland requested it be tabled in order to be better prepared for the hearing. At the February meeting, the only representative for the development company was the surveyor, Jayson Natera, who said he had been provided virtually no information about the project.  

When asked for details about who would foot the bill for needed infrastructure at the site and why that specific location had been chosen, Natera told the commissioners he had no information other than a zone change was being requested. 

The nearly two acre lot is located at the intersection of N.M. 116 and E. Baca Lane in Pueblitos, south of the city of Belen. Overland has requested a zone change from rural residential 2 to commercial 2. 

Manuel Romero, who lives with his mother on Pueblitos Road and is adjacent to the property, told the planning and zoning commissioners while he was pro growth, his community was not a priority growth area as per the county’s 2022 comprehensive plan. 

“I know you can change zoning for development but we don’t have the density. I am vehemently against this,” Romero said. “I don’t think it brings in any value for the community.” 

Romero, as well as other residents, pointed out there was already a Dollar General three miles to the north in Belen. In addition, there is a Family Dollar two blocks to the south and a Dollar Tree a couple blocks to the north of the existing Dollar General. 

A special education teacher who takes care of his widowed mother, Romero said he fully understands the temptation of selling property to a developer like Overland. 

“A few years ago, we were approached and offered hundreds of thousands of dollars for two acres. Just under a million dollars,” he said. “We thought it through and in good conscious couldn’t do that to the people who lived there. That money would have helped make life a lot easier. 

“We will fight this every step of the way, if need be. It just doesn’t make sense for this community.” 

Other residents expressed concerns about increased traffic on N.M. 116 — both customers and large delivery trucks — which could lead to more crashes and pose a danger to the school buses that pick up and drop off students in the area. 

Alex Taylor lives about a mile south of the property, which sits on the southern end of the stretch of highway between Castillo and Mill roads. Taylor said there have been numerous accidents and several fatalities on that section of highway, pointing out there’s been an increase to traffic on N.M. 116 in the last several months due to Jarales Road to the east being closed for construction of a bridge at the railroad crossing on that highway. 

“We are a very rural area and this is not needed. If I wanted the convenience of a Dollar General, I would have moved to town,” Taylor said. “It is imperative those of us who live in this community be listened to … We are farmers. We don’t need this to be commercial.” 

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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.