Commission sends plan back to P&Z

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Valencia County commissioners decided to take the advice of their legal counsel and sent a proposed land-use ordinance for parts of Tomé and Adelino back to the planning and zoning commission before taking action.

During a public hearing last week, the commission heard from numerous people, who were for and against the ordinance, which would control commercial development in the historical community along N.M. 47.

The proposed ordinance is the end result of a six-month moratorium on new commercial development in the area to allow local landowners and the county administration time to develop a plan to handle future commercial properties. The moratorium was set to end on Oct. 11.

Jacobo Martinez, the county's planner, told the commission that a committee of volunteers met every Tuesday since April to develop the draft plan. He said the mission of the group was to bring residents together to develop a community vision for the area.

"The (committee) developed an outreach plan, including surveys, which were sent out to 1,351 property owners," Martinez said. "They received 156 surveys back. They also sent out a brochure to all property owners within the boundaries … describing what the process was and what their plan was, describing their intent and the time and place where they met weekly."

Martinez said the committee took direction from four different sources, including census data, suggestions received from the survey, the county's comprehensive plan and information from people who attended the meetings.

County attorney Dave Pato said after reviewing the plan, he recommended the commission send it back to planning and zoning for their review.

Peter Lupsha, a Tomé resident and a member of the committee, told the commission he was pleased to see his neighbors who never attended the meetings at the public hearing.

"It would be very easy for all of you to turn Tomé/Adelino into another Highway 47 in Peralta and Bosque Farms, or Main Street in Los Lunas," Lupsha said. "But it would be impossible to turn 47 in Bosque Farms back into what Tomé/Adelinio is today. We believe we are special and unique."

Rita Padilla-Gutierrez, a Tomé native and member of the committee, said it was critical for the committee to reach out and get the word out to people about what they were doing. She said committee members had to "beg people to get on board."

She said even if this plan and ordinance isn't accepted by the commission, it is still a historic plan that has been long needed. Padilla-Gutierrez also said while the plan is not perfect and changes are expected, she pointed out that the process was a "genuine grass-roots effort."

"We are proud of our history in Tomé," Padilla-Gutierrez said. "Just know there's a lot of emotion and good work put into this process. We took everyone's thoughts and ideas into consideration."

Tony Williams, attorney for business and property owners Scott Edeal and Bob Bolton, told the commission he was there to speak against the plan for different reasons, including the defectiveness of the legal process for landowners if the ordinance is approved.

"This plan is flawed because it overreaches in its scope in what it's trying to address," Williams said. "These commercial property owners have a legally-protected right that would prevent a legislative zone change. Each landowner is informed of zone changes that would affect their property and they have a right to present why it should or shouldn't be permitted."

He also said the way the county's notice of the public hearing is flawed. Williams explained that the notice said that if people wanted a copy of the plan, they would need to go to the county clerk's office. But, he said, the clerk employees knew nothing of the ordinance and were then directed to the planning and zoning office.

Williams also criticized the $60 price tag the county charged for a hard copy of the plan for the general public.

The Los Lunas attorney also said the crux of the proposed ordinance is that commercial property within the boundaries is being down-sized. He said the plan itself it also substantially flawed.

Along with questioning the plan's authority over water rights, conservation easements, greenbelt policies, acequia preservation and grandfather rights, Williams said the proposed ordinance unfairly restricts the size of commercial buildings to 5,000 square feet.

"This is very restrictive," Williams said. "There are existing large businesses there, including Trees that Please, Sunset Foods … and those may remain under a conditional-use permit, but only if they submit a site plan."

Williams said another restriction that is "designed to squeeze out businesses" is the 5,000-square-foot limitation the ordinance would place on business's parking areas. He estimated it would require a business to only have 12 parking spaces per property.

Another problem Williams has is that the plan would be the creation of a new commercial parcel in the area of N.M. 47 and Tomé Hill Road.

"If we are going to have a plan … this ought to be front and center and noticed to the public," he said. "To take one residential parcel without a quasi-judicial hearing is simply going to be a legal train wreck.

Michael Melendrez, owner of Trees that Please and Soil Secrets, asked the commission to take the time and do their due diligence before approving the proposed ordinance.

The Tomé business owner told the commission he loves Tomé and the valley and wants to continue doing business in Valencia County. But, he said, while trying to preserve the history of the area, he hopes the county won't make it hard for property owners like himself to conduct business.

"(I would like) you to polish (the ordinance) so that it wouldn't encumber the businesses," Melendrez said.

Commissioner Mary Andersen said she is concerned with the legal questions Williams pointed out.

"There are so many legal questions, there is no point going forward unless these questions are answered," Andersen said. "I just think the county's liability with it, as it is written, is too great to even consider."

Andersen said there has to "multiple changes" before it comes back to the commission or else the county will be "in litigation for the next 10 years."

"I just want to assure everyone in Tomé that I'm not against making it a truly historical district," she said. "We might just have overreached and done things too fast. Let's do it right and get answers to these questions."

Commissioner Alicia Aguilar agreed, saying the county needs to be very cautious while listening to what the community wants.

"Maybe we need to take baby steps," Aguilar said, "and try to identify what's going to be changed in the ordinance."

Commission Chairman Charles Eaton said he shares his fellow commissioner's concerns, and that the intent of the plan was to preserve the historic value of the community.

"We need to be open for input and changes to the plan and not rush to judgment on what we have here," Eaton said. "Mr. Williams has valid concerns and we need to protect the county."


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