P&Z votes not to OK dollar stores

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The county planning and zoning commissioners shot down two proposed zone changes for Dollar General stores — one in Los Chavez and a second in Tomé — recommending denial on a 4-1 and 5-0 vote respectively.

The requests will be heard at a public hearing in front of the county commissioners before they make the final decision on whether to grant the zone changes.

Both projects are 9,100 square feet of retail space developed by The Broadway Group out of Huntsville, Ala.

The zone change in Los Chavez would take a two-acre C-1 zoned property to C-2. The property is located on N.M. 314, north of the Los Chavez fire station.

The current commercial zoning allows for retail development, but only up to 5,000 square feet. Brittney Whitley, a representative of The Broadway Group, said 9,100 square feet is the smallest footprint the company develops for these projects.

In Tomé, the requested change was a bit more drastic. The applicant asked for a zone change from RR-2, residential use, to C-2. The property near the intersection of N.M. 47 and Sedillo Road, just south of the Tomé Art Gallery.

With the exception of Whitley and Albuquerque attorney Josh Skarsgard who was representing The Broadway Group, none of the standing-room-only crowd spoke in favor of either project.

Planning and Zoning Commission Chairwoman Joan Artiaga laid down a few ground rules before the hearings commenced.

"Everyone here will have the opportunity to speak and we need to treat each other with respect," Artiaga said. "There will be no jeering or shouting out from the back of the room. No one will be interrupted."

Despite the chairwoman's request, the crowd was full of chatter, derisive laughter and sharp interjections during the presentations and comments by Skarsgard and Whitley.

Artiaga gaveled them to silence several times throughout the meeting, before finally telling them, "I told you the rules earlier. They're the ones you learned in kindergarten. If you need to have a discussion, go outside."

In describing both projects, Skarsgard said neither would cause drastic changes to either area.

"The spirit behind these stores is to have high quality retail products closely located to communities that are not close to retail," Skarsgard said.

He said both areas were "under served" in terms of retail opportunities.

Andrea Padilla, who lives less than a block away from the proposed Tomé location, countered that argument.

"Have you ever thought that we want it that way? I like going out for a drive," Padilla said. "We're (an) old (community) and we love it the way it is."

Residents from both areas argued that traffic was dangerous and would only become more so because of the 40 to 50 additional trips a day to the proposed stores.

"I know you did a traffic study on 314," said Richard Herrera, who lives directly across the road from the Los Chavez location. "But it doesn't take into account the guys on motorcycles up on their back wheels and the stock trailers and tractors."

The Tomé property is located near a six-point intersection of N.M. 47, Patricio, Romero, Silva and Sedillo roads.

"The traffic is horrendous now, this will make it worse," said Marie Padilla-Schaffer. "There will be big trucks for delivery as well."

Patricio and Romero often carry a large volume of traffic to and from the University of New Mexico-Valencia Campus on La Entrada.

The planning and zoning commissioners were also concerned about the traffic and how the developers would work with the New Mexico Department of Transportation, since both roads are state highways.

Whitley said both locations had been studied by The Broadway Group's engineer, but DOT hasn't issued an opinion. The Los Chavez study is almost finished, and DOT received the Tomé traffic report on Wednesday, the same day as the meeting.

"We will do whatever DOT requires," Whitley said.

She said according to the engineer's report on the Tomé location, he recommended a south-bound deceleration lane.

However, the lane would have to encroach on the property where the Tomé Art Gallery sits.

"If DOT requires that lane, and we cannot build it due to its location, then we can't go forward," she said.

The engineer's study of traffic on N.M. 314 indicated no need for acceleration or deceleration lanes for the project.

In the final votes for the projects, Commissioner Greg Gaudette voted against the recommendation of denial for the Los Chavez project and in favor of the recommendation for the Tomé property.

"My concern for development on this property is very different," Gaudette said of the Tomé request. "This is a very distinctive piece of land in a very special area."

After the determination by the commissioners, Skarsgard said he would work with Jacobo Martinez, the county planner, to schedule public meetings about both projects to hopefully reach an accord.

The residents of Tomé went before the county commissioners on March 20 in an attempt to block the development of the Dollar General as well as a Family Dollar planned a few miles north.

Commissioners agreed to begin exploring a possible moratorium in the area to allow for the establishment of a special greenbelt status.

In addition to the requested zone change for the Dollar General, there is a second project at 3110 N.M. 47, immediately south of Almost Anything Stored, a self-storage facility, near Menard Road.

According to county zoning maps, the property is already zoned C-2 and only requires administrative approval for building to begin. The site plan shows a 8,320 square-foot building on 1.08 acres.

Martinez said there is a hearing on the moratorium tentatively scheduled for the county commission's April 10 meeting. It is unclear at this time if the commissioners will take action at that meeting.


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