P&Z approves recommending zone change

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A zone change request in the heart of Tomé that has raised some hackles has been recommended for approval by the Valencia County Planning and Zoning Commission.

The nearly three acres at 2975 N.M. 47 is currently zoned neighborhood commercial, C-1. Owners Patti and Bernardo Garcia requested a zone change to community commercial, C-2, in order to open a landscaping materials company.

County zoning ordinances require the higher zoning for landscaping and nursery businesses.

The zone change request marks the second time the Garcias have gone to the county with a proposed use for the property.

Last fall, the couple went before the county planning and zoning commission to ask for a conditional use permit to open an auto body shop on the property, which is just north of the Tomé Post Office.

The planning and zoning commission denied the request on a 3-0 vote.

They appealed the decision to the county commissioners, and in February, it was denied on a 3-2 vote.

The zone change request first came before the planning and zoning commission in April, but was tabled on a 3-1 vote at the request of the Garcias' attorney, Tony Williams.

During that meeting, Jarales resident and former Tomé resident Rita Padilla-Gutierrez said, "Had we known, we would have had a lawyer."

With the request back on the table at the June 27 meeting, Padilla-Gutierrez and nearby property owner Patricia Sanchez did have a lawyer representing them.

Los Lunas attorney Pedro Rael said he was representing the two women and others in opposition to the project who had standing.

To have standing in a planning and zoning matter, a person must either own property within the 100-foot notification area or be aggrieved by the request.

Rael asked that the request be tabled again, since he had been retained only the day before the hearing.

Commissioner Mike McCartney pointed out that they had over a month to get an attorney.

"I'm sorry you waited until the day before to hire someone, but that's not our problem," McCartney said.

The Garcias' attorney told the commissioners he understood their hesitance over recommending the C-2 zone, especially in light of the previous application and the community resistance to the proposed auto shop.

"If the zone change is granted, my clients are willing to sign a covenant that stipulates the only allowable C-2 use is a greenhouse, landscaping-type of business, Williams said."

In addition to the applicants, two nearby residents spoke in favor of the project. David Franklin said he would like to see the business come to Tomé to provide jobs "for young people, like me."

Michael McAfee, who has lived in the area for 11 years, said he thought the business would be a good fit for the area.

"You worry about what this will be like, but you don't worry about people burning, and pardon my language, cow crap and smoking out the whole neighborhood," McAfee said.

Padilla-Gutierrez the request was "a back door way to open an auto body shop."

An automotive shop is an allowed use in a C-2 zone.

"First his passion was body work, now his passion is landscaping. I'm not buying it," Padilla-Gutierrez said.

Sanchez, who lives almost two miles to the south on N.M. 47 and owns the vacant lot across from the post office on the corner of Tavalopa Drive and the highway, said she has been before the commission about this property five other times.

"Why have they requested a zone change? That is severe," she said. "We have fought many battles and signed petitions back to the '90s. I have petitions here with over 20 percent that say they do not support this."

McCartney asked what the dates were on the petitions. Commission Chairman Jim Lane cut him off, directing Sanchez to give the petitions to the planning and zoning staff.

According to the planning and zoning administrative staff, no petitions against the zone change have been presented to date.

Mike Maestas lives on El Cid, directly behind the Garcia's property, questioned their integrity because there are cars parked on the property even though they say they aren't doing body work.

The Garcias said the items Maestas was seeing belonged to a former business partner, who they were currently in litigation with. Patti Garcia said after July 3, they should be able to legally remove his property from theirs.

Sanchez also questioned whether Commissioner Scott Edeal should be present at the meeting since he sold the property to the Garcias. Lane said Edeal would recuse himself from the vote, like he did on the conditional use permit request, but would be present for the meeting. Edeal only spoke during the meeting to recuse himself when the vote was called.

Rael said if Commissioner Scott Edeal was not qualified to vote because he sold the property to the Garcias then he should be in the meeting where he could "influence other commissioners.

"If he is not going to vote, you cannot even bring the question," he said. "You need a super-majority of the board, four of five members, to even vote on a zone change."

If Edeal recused himself and with Commissioner Greg Gaudette absent from the meeting, Rael argued that the planning and zoning commission could not consider the request since it only had three of five members present.

McCartney countered that they were only a recommending body.

"The commission approves zone changes. We're not approving or denying a zone change and he full well knows that," McCartney said. "This is something that we send on to the full commission with a recommendation."

When Artiaga disclosed that she had visited the property but not spoken with the applicants, Padilla-Garcia called for her recusal on the vote as well.

Artiaga did not recuse herself and made a motion to recommend approval of the zone change with the condition of a blind fence on the rear of the property to shield nearby residences.

Lane asked if her recommendation was for an "open C-2."

"No, the recommendation for the zone change is with the covenant included, which limits the property to being C-2 only as a landscaping, greenhouse and nursery," she said.

Lane addressed the Garcias, saying, "You do realize that the whole world will come down on you if you do paint and body work?"

The Garcias nodded vigorously.

The request will be heard by the county commissioners at their Aug. 8 public hearing. The meeting begins at 5 p.m.


-- Email the author at jdendinger@news-bulletin.com.