RIO COMMUNITIES — In light of recent citizen sentiments, the Rio Communities City Council will soon decide whether it will allow any heavy industrial zoned properties in the city.

During last week’s meeting, the council agreed to publicize a proposed ordinance that would eliminate all heavy industrial (I-3) zoning within the city limits.

Martin Moore, the city’s manager, told the council there were issues regarding a recent application to rezone property that were concerning to city staff.

“Many people were concerned about the potential of a petroleum-type uses inside the city limits,” Moore said. “The second issue that came up was cost, and questions and confusion over the process regarding public hearings.”

He said many people didn’t understand the planning and zoning commission would hold public hearings, then make a recommendation to the city council, which would also hold a public hearing. The commission will also be required to prepare and send its written recommendation to the city council.

Moore said the confusion may now be more clear with the amendment to the ordinance that says only the city council will conduct public hearings, rather than the planning and zoning commission.

Rio Communities citizens became concerned about the city’s heavy industrial zoning when Cibola Land Corporation — a company associated with oil and gas production in New Mexico — filed an application in December 2021 to rezone hundreds of acres on the south side of town for heavy industrial development.

Harvey Yates III, the vice president of Cibola Land Corporation, told the commissioners in January the company doesn’t own any mineral rights on the property, which are necessary to extract natural resources such as oil and natural gas, and has no intention to drill.

During two different public hearings, numerous citizens voiced their concerns about allowing heavy industrial uses to operate close to residential neighborhoods.

Harvey Yates Sr, the company’s president,  decided to withdraw the application in April, telling the News-Bulletin city of Rio Communities needs to make a decision if it wants to remain a retirement community.

Currently, the city’s zoning ordinance allows for such industries, including meat packing plants with no slaughtering or rendering, feed mills and grain elevators, petroleum or liquefied petroleum gas bulk plants and heavy manufacturing.

Conditional uses in an I-3 include auto wrecking yards and paint shops.

Special use permits in I-3 can be granted for businesses, such as asphalt plants, sand, gravel or concrete plants, sawmills and facilities for production of oil, natural gas, geothermal resources or other hydrocarbons.

“These are issues we need to address to be responsive to the public,” Moore said.

“Public sentiment in recent public hearings has clearly demonstrated that the public does not support the location and operation of certain heavy industrial activities in the city of Rio Communities,” the proposed ordinance states. If adopted, it’s to “protect the health, safety, and welfare of the community as it relates to the location and operation of certain heavy industries within the city of Rio Communities by imposing certain time, place, manner and other reasonable restrictions on industrial activities.”

The city manager said the planning and zoning commission held a public hearing, and has recommended the council delete the heavy industrial zoning from the city’s ordinance.

“This is heading us toward a bigger change,” Moore said. “There are things we (the citizens) don’t want. We’re going to move forward from here.”

Councilor Art Apodaca thanked the staff for their work on the ordinance, saying, “It’s good and we’re moving the city forward in a positive way. There will be less confusion for our residents.”

The council will vote on the proposed amendments to the zoning ordinance at its next meeting at 6 p.m., Monday, June 12.

In other business, the council:

  • Approved entering into a contract with Once a Day Marketing Outdoor Recreation Economy;
  • Tabled a decision as to become a member of the Greater Valencia County Chamber of Commerce;
  • Authorized the purchase of two fire apparatus, a service truck for $150,000, and a lateral truck for $500,000. Both vehicles will be paid for from the money the city received through the American Rescue Plan Act. The city received a total of $1,122,193 from the federal government.
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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.