RIO COMMUNITIES — Applause and cheers from Rio Communities residents erupted last Thursday when they heard what they’ve been wanting for the last couple of months.

The Rio Communities Planning and Zoning Commission unanimously voted to recommend  city councilors deny two zone change requests from Cibola Land Corporation.

Cibola Land Corporation is requesting to rezone hundreds of acres of residential property on the south side of town to Commercial 3 and Industrial 3. The company, which is owned by Harvey Yates Jr., a New Mexico oil and gas developer, has requested, through its vice president Harvey Yates III, a rezone of 262 acres to Industrial 3 and 37.78 acres to Commercial 3.

The P&Z commissioners made their decision on both requests after two public hearings held on Jan. 19 and Feb. 16, and after deliberating for nearly a hour and a half in closed executive session on March 2.

While no one on the commission gave a reason for recommending denial, Rio Communities P&Z Chairman Thomas Scroggins did say he would draft a letter to the city council.

Commissioner Scott Adair thanked the residents for showing up, but asked they show the same support when the city asks for volunteers.

Commissioner Chad Good also thanked the residents for their input.

“It impacted where we went,” Good said of the commission’s vote. “We have clean up days, please come.”

Commissioner Melodie Good reminded the audience that it was a process, and this was how democracy plays out.

“When someone brings something to us, we’re obligated to do what we did,” Melodie Good said. “Sometimes it felt like we were on a firing squad. If you can’t stand the heat, stay out of the kitchen, right?”

Rio Communities City Manager Marty Moore informed the commission he has been directed by the city council to review the city’s zoning ordinance. He also invited a couple commissioners to help with looking at the development standards and permitted uses in the Commercial 3 and Industrial 1-3 zoning.

Clara Garcia | News-Bulletin photo
Rio Communities City Manager Marty Moore speaks with Harvey Yates Jr. and his son, Harvey Yates III, after the planning and zoning meeting last week.

During the public comment section of the meeting, several residents spoke, thanking the commission for their vote.

“I know it was a hard decision,” said resident Loedi Silva. “You’ve put in many hours, and I’m sure had a lot of sleepless nights like all of us.

“We realize it doesn’t stop here; it goes to the city council. We hope they follow your lead and, at the very least, ask for environmental impact studies to help protect our community.”

Kathy Gurule also thanked the commission for making her decision to move to Rio Communities last year not regrettable.

“I thank you for listening to the voices of the people … who are in the community, who are your neighbors,” Gurule said.

“I want to say thank you guys for saying no,” said Rio Communities resident Matthew Marquez. “It’s not over. It’s just the beginning. Now we have to go before the city council … I just want to make sure everyone knows that the community wasn’t against you guys. We were against what was going to be put over there.

“We brought a lot of frustration to you guys, you guys are a part of us, and we hope you stay behind us as we fight this billion dollar company that wants to come in and take over our lives.”

During the two public hearings, dozens of Rio Communities residents testified about the potential negative impacts heavy commercial and industrial zoning could have on the area, including pollution, a decrease in quality of life, declining property values and more.

At the second public hearing last month, Yates III said residents raised “accurate concerns” about the proposed 50-feet buffer zone between the Cibola property and residential lots, and said the company was willing to increase the buffer to 300 feet.

He said the company doesn’t own the mineral rights on the property and promised they will not drill wells. Yates continued, saying he was willing to put in writing the company wouldn’t drill for or store oil and gas on the property.

The Cibola zone change request — like all zoning requests — will go to the Rio Communities City Council for a final decision. The council will hold its own public hearing on the application during which members of the public can again weigh in with concerns and testimony.

(Editor’s Note: Assistant editor Julia M. Dendinger contributed to this report.)

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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.

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.