RIO COMMUNITIES — A recent zone change request wasn’t exactly what the rumors predicted but it was still met with dozens of objections during a public hearing last week.

Nearly 80 residents from the city of Rio Communities and surrounding areas showed up at the Thursday, Jan. 19, planning and zoning commission meeting to protest a request to rezone hundreds of acres on the south side of town for heavy industrial development.

The zone change application was filed by Cibola Land Corporation and signed by company president Harvey Yates Jr., a name associated with oil and gas production in New Mexico.

Harvey Yates III, his son, told the packed room and commissioners the company wants to develop an industrial park, not look for gas and oil.

Yates told the commissioners 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.

“This is purely a business creation,” Yates said last week.

The company owns more than 300 acres on the southern end of the city, of which it’s requested a rezone of 262 acres to Industrial 3 and 37.78 acres to Commercial 3.

A C-3 zone, under the city’s zoning ordinance, allows a wide range of uses, such as construction and contractors yards, apartment complexes and welding shops. Conditional and special use permits in a C-3 zone can also be requested for businesses such as warehousing or wholesale distribution and adult entertainment.

According to the ordinance, the purpose of an I-3 zone is to “accommodate a wide variety of heavy manufacturing, commercial, processing, storage, packaging, compounding and wholesaling and distribution operations with no limit on size.”

Some of the allowable use examples in the ordinance includes meat packing plants with no slaughtering or rendering, feed mills and grain elevators, petroleum or liquefied petroleum gas bulk plans 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 or production of oil, natural gas, geothermal resources or other hydrocarbons.

Special use and conditional use permits for C-3 and I-3 are granted to property owners only after a public hearing and recommendation by planning and zoning, and a public hearing and vote by the city council.

The two parcels for the C-3 request are on the far west of the swath of property, abutting N.M. 304, with the remainder requested for I-3 stretching east to N.M. 47.

Yates said the company will dedicate two, 50-feet buffer zones on the east and north side of the properties to separate the requested commercial and industrial properties from the neighboring residential areas.

The Cibola-owned properties are currently zoned as Planned Development, a flexible designation that allows for a mix of uses ranging from homes and parks to light commercial and retail activities.

To the north of the property are dozens of residential properties, both vacant and occupied, surrounding the Tierra del Sol golf course.

Directly south of the current city boundaries and the Cibola properties is the Rio Grande Industrial Park on N.M. 304, along with hundreds of undeveloped residential lots to the east.

Screenshot from Valencia County’s online parcel map
The properties highlighted in red are owned by Cibola Land Corporation. The company has requested the two parcels in the far northwest corner, abutting N.M. 304, be rezoned as Commercial 2 and the remainder rezoned Industrial 3.

If the zone change is approved, Yates said the company plans to build new east-west roads through the property to connect the two highways and hopefully remove some of the heavy, semi-truck traffic from city streets.

Yates is also hopeful the city will expand its I-3 offerings by taking the current industrial park into the city through annexation.

“We are hoping to work with the city and annex the (Rio Grande Industrial Park) and add it to the 300 acres if it’s rezoned. That would create the second largest metro industrial park in New Mexico,” he said, which was greeted by grumbled opposition from audience members. “This would create the opportunity to bring in large companies that need property to build.”

When asked, Yates said he has spoken with companies that were interested in developing in the area, but couldn’t provide specifics at this time.

“There’s already a rail spur into the (existing) industrial park that we are hoping to bring north,” he said. “That is very attractive to businesses.”

Creating an industrial park of this size would provide properties big enough for companies such as Amazon to build, Yates noted, or companies that make wind turbines.

Even with promises to not drill, no one at the meeting supported the idea of heavy industrial being brought to the city.

“What happened to ‘Endless Views, Endless Opportunities?’ That’s your motto,” said Monique Marquez. “It will be endless views distorted by large buildings and smog. Say ‘no’ to rezoning to maintain the city’s lifestyle.”

Helen Smith, who lives on Frederico Boulevard in the “very last house on the desert end,” said the fact that only property owners within 100 feet of the proposed zone change were notified was a failure of the zoning ordinance.

“It’s extremely small when you’re considering throwing up large buildings,” Smith said. “I’m 70 yards from this. I expect there to be smoke, dust, glare, odors …. and will be in violation of the living conditions under which me and my neighbors built our homes.”

Smith also voiced concerns about the future growth of the city, possible damage to the aquifer, run off from the site and whether there was sufficient water, sewer and power infrastructure in place for a development of this scope.

“I am 217 feet away from this. This matter is of great concern of the residents of Rio Communities … I respectfully request the commission to vote hell no,” she concluded.

Tom Nelson said he owns five rental houses in the city, and an industrial park would affect his property values. He also noted the city has a conflict in its notification process for zone changes.

The zoning ordinance reads property owners within 100 feet of the property will be notified by registered mail, while the zone change request form on the city’s website states notification will go to those within 300 feet, Nelson said, drawing scandalized ‘ooooohs’ from the crowd.

“You did not follow your own regulations and this application should be thrown out,” Nelson said.

Former Valencia County commissioner Ron Gentry, who lives just south of the city, recalled a “battle” the county commission had when I-3 zoning was proposed in the Rio Grande Industrial Park.

“We were told we’d have all kinds of oversight. The first application was for a trash recycling plant and we couldn’t stop it,” Gentry said.

He pointed out that once a zone change is granted, while property owners are subject to environmental regulations, they have the right to develop whatever they want to so long as it’s an allowable use of the zoning.

“I’ve known the Yates family all my life. They are good people with good intentions, but hell is full of good intentions,” Gentry said. “If you want to see I-3, go down to South Broadway (in Albuquerque).

“I don’t think we’re ready for it. Belen has its I-3 five miles south of town. We have it two miles south. Think about the long-term authority you’d have. I think you would lose it.”

After nearly three hours of testimony from the public, Rio Communities City Manager Martin Moore recommended the commission table the zone change requests until its Feb. 16 meeting to allow for a second public hearing.

“That will allow for additional opportunities for input and comment, so residents and those around us have ample opportunity to be heard,” Moore said.

The commission only makes a recommendation to the city council on whether to approve a zone change request. After an additional public hearing before the city council, the councilors will vote on whether or not to approve the request.

The planning and zoning commission will hear the Yates request again at 4 p.m., Thursday, Feb. 16, in the council chambers at Rio Communities City Hall,360 Rio Communities Blvd.


Open Book

Cibola Land Corporation Zone Change Application


Open Book

Rio Communities Zoning Code

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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.