RIO COMMUNITIES — It’s a new year and a familiar request has already popped up.
A year ago, residents of the city of Rio Communities and surrounding area fought back against a heavy industrial zone change request for more than 300 acres on the southern edge of the young community and won, and now the property owners are taking another swing at it.
In January 2023, Cibola Land Corporation, headed up by oil and gas producer Harvey Yates Jr., asked for a rezone on 262 acres from planned development to Industrial 3 and for Commercial 3 on 37.78 acres.
After multiple public hearings with standing-room only crowds, Yates withdrew his application. Since then, the city has reworked it’s zoning code to eliminate heavy industrial and instead allow for business manufacturing, which allows for a wide variety of light manufacturing, assembly, commercial processing, storage, packaging, compounding and wholesaling as well as distribution operations.
Last week, Will Gleason, a certified planner with Albuquerque architecture firm Dekker Perich Sabatini, came before the Rio Communities Planning and Zoning Commission with a request that echoed the one from 2023 — a rezone of 39 acres abutting N.M. 304 and 24 acres on N.M. 47 (Rio Communities Boulevard) to be rezoned to C-2, and 268 acres between the two state highways to be rezoned to the new business manufacturing designation. All the property is currently zoned for planned development, and the new plan proposes to leave a buffer of 46 acres zoned as PD for residential development on the northern side of the acreage, which abuts residentially zoned property on the south side of the city.
“Permissive uses in business manufacturing includes things that are typical for light industrial, such as assembling within a closed manufacturing space — things like mobile homes,” Gleason said. “This is just a rezoning request, so any particular development would come back to planning and zoning.”
The rezone application also includes plans to extend the existing rail spur that runs into the Rio Grande Industrial Park, south of the city, which is within unincorporated Valencia County and subject to its zoning ordinances.
To bring the rail spur north, developers would have to go through an application process and internal review by BNSF, which owns and operates the line, to lengthen the spur. The application also indicates a desire to bring Christina Road through the northern end of RGIP and into the property in Rio Communities. That could only be done with the agreement of the county, since it is a county-maintained road.
While last year’s attempt to rezone the property was requested by Cibola Land Corporation as the owner, county property tax records show there are now additional owners of the 377 acres — Abo Viejo Investments has 30 percent ownership and Felipe Sanchez has 10 percent ownership interest. While the 2024 application indicates the applicant for the zone change is Harvey Yates on behalf of the Playa Vista Group, a search of the New Mexico Secretary of State’s online database of corporations and businesses doesn’t find a company by that name, seeming to indicate Playa Vista is simply a shorthand reference to the three owners since the property is situated in the Playa Estates subdivision.
Gleason said the property owners didn’t have specific users lined up for the property, but envisioned companies such as Amazon, Anderson Window, battery manufacturers and industries related to renewable energy production as occupants.
“This could be great in terms of generating jobs and tax revenue for Rio Communities,” he said. “This is a rezone request. This is not for a particular business. This just opens the door to allow them.”
Resident George Torres said he was concerned about increased traffic on both N.M. 47 and 304, saying both were already well used.
“I’m not fond of that kind of traffic pattern and noise that is going to be associated with it,” Torres said. “I’m not against light manufacturing. As an electrical contractor, I’d bite on any of those jobs if it came to be. By the same token, I’d like a bit more calm. That’s why I moved to Rio Communities.”
City Manager Martin Moore said he had the same concerns, especially since the wind tower manufacturer Arcosa, located in the RGIP, was set to start trucking out finished towers later this summer. Part of the proposed rezone would establish an east-west public road between the two highways on the far south side that could be used as a truck route and keep heavy traffic out of the city proper, Moore said.
“Our concern is to pull the heavy trucks and noisier traffic away from the residential areas,” Moore said.
Dick Irvine, who lives on Western Drive, said he didn’t see a lot of difference between the two proposals, noting that, in his opinion, the county didn’t have enough population to entice industry and manufacturing to the area.
The planning and zoning commission did not make a recommendation at the Jan. 11 meeting and plan to discuss the rezone request further at its meeting at 4 p.m., Thursday, Feb. 1.
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.