RIO COMMUNITIES—In a surprise announcement during Monday evening’s city council meeting, Rio Communities Mayor Joshua Ramsell told the public a controversial zone request has been halted.
“I want to inform the city council that I did receive a certified letter (CLC withdraw letter) this afternoon from the applicant for the I-3 and C-3 zoning,” Ramsell said. “They have officially withdrawn their application on both of those so, at this time, none of those matters will be coming before this body.”
When asked by the News-Bulletin after the meeting if it was the Cibola Land Corporation that sent the letter, the mayor said it was.
Cibola Land Corp. president by Harvey Yates Jr., a New Mexico oil and gas developer, had requested a rezone of 262 acres to Industrial 3 and 37.78 acres to Commercial 3 on the southern end of Rio Communities.
In a phone interview with Yates Tuesday morning, he said the city of Rio Communities needs to make a decision if it wants to remain a retirement community.
“… or does it want to be a vibrant community that is creating jobs for young families,” Yates said. “I don’t disagree with either, and I can understand both sides of that argument.”
Yates said his company had commercial developable land, and has been approached by members of the community to develop.
“In order to have a developer or stores come in that are of real consequence, you need to have jobs and you have to have people coming in,” he said. “But if it’s simply going to be a retirement community, I’m not sure why they formed the city of Rio Communities in the first place.”
After two public hearings in January and February, the Rio Communities Planning and Zoning Commission unanimously voted in March to recommend city councilors deny the two zone change requests.
The consensus of the community was fierce during the two public hearings prior to the commission’s decision last month. Many residents voiced their concerns about the potential negative impacts to local air quality, possible contamination of the soil and aquifer and overall degradation of quality of life in the small city.
They also voiced their concerns of the potential of decreased property values because of the industrial park being close to residential areas.
Company officials wanted to develop an industrial park, which they said would “create the opportunity to bring in large companies that need property to build.”
Harvey Yates III, the Cibola Land Corp.’s vice president and Yate’s son, told the commission the company didn’t own the mineral rights (on the property) and would not drill wells.
“The only thing we would drill would be water wells, which we would be willing to lease to the city,” Yates III said.
He also said he was willing to put in writing the company wouldn’t drill for or store oil and gas on the property.
“Oil, gas, chemicals and things that create odors. We don’t want a chemical plant there,” he said. “At the same time, we don’t want to prevent something like a Walmart to keep fuel on site for things like forklifts. We don’t want to destroy the community.”
During the interview with the VCNB, Yates said he wishes the city of Rio Communities well, and does understand people don’t want an industrial complex next to their house.
“We’re just stepping back to see where the city really wants to go,” Yates said. “More power to them and, if we can help, we will. Once they decide on what they want to be, we may come back.
“We’re not only withdrawing from the rezoning at this point, but also from the notion that we will be a participant in any kind of commercial development.”
During Monday’s meeting, Rio Communities City Manager Marty Moore told the council the city has corrected the rezoning application and instructions to read anyone owning property 100 feet away will be notified of a zone change request. There was some confusion that the city would notify property owners 300 feet away.
“We’re continuing to study those issues that need to be clarified,” Moore said. “These are just some of the things the task force has going on.
“This is a preliminary group looking at things that will come out to the general public.”
Later in the meeting, the council unanimously agreed to direct the planning and zoning commission to review and recommend changes to I-3 zone and zoning ordinance hearing procedures.
Moore said since the middle of 2021, the city has had issues and situations where there are areas of confusion in regards to the hearing processes, whether it’s a variance, a conditional use permit or a zone change.
“All of these things involved the planning and zoning commission and city council,” Moore said. “Some of these areas provide ample opportunity for public comment, but at the same time, it creates a duplication process that it becomes confusing for the applicants and, at times, for the public.”
Moore said he wants to be able to go to the commissioners and get the procedures clarified, while clearing a way for an open dialogue between the commission, the public and the applicant.
“The second item that has popped up is petroleum,” the city manager said. “… we would like to go to the planning and zoning commission to ask for formal language to be considered to prohibit those items in these zones we’re talking about.”
Rio Communities Councilor Peggy Gutjahr said she believes it’s “really important that we take these steps. It reflects on some of the questions and comments of the public …”
“I’m glad to see the public does know that we do listen to them, and that we’re responsive to their needs,” said Rio Communities City Councilor Lawrence Gordon.
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.