County to consider solar overlay zoning

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With the interest in solar development rising in Valencia County, Valencia County planner Jacobo Martinez wants to move zoning in a direction that will allow such development but protect the property as well.

Last month, Martinez asked county planning and zoning commissioners if they would be willing to review a draft solar field overlay zone. They agreed and will hold a public hearing on the draft zoning ordinance at 4 p.m., Wednesday, April 23, at the county administration offices, located at 444 Luna Ave. in Los Lunas.

"The overlay would lay on top of an existing zone and is defined specifically for solar use only," Martinez told the commissioners. "If the solar use stops for a period of time, the overlay would cease to exist and the land would go back to the previous zoning."

For example, someone who owns property zoned Rural Residential 2 could go through a process similar to a zone change and request that the solar overlay zone be applied to the property.

The request would go to the planning and zoning commission for a hearing and recommendation, Martinez said, and then on to the county commission for another hearing and final decision.

Currently, the only way solar development is allowed under county zoning ordinances is to change the zoning to Industrial-3 or heavy industrial.

Martinez pointed out that a PNM request for just that was rejected by the county commissioners earlier this year.

Valencia County Planning and Zoning Commission Chairwoman Joan Artiaga said right now, the zone change is required because the solar fields produce electricity, and power production is considered an I-3 use.

"This is a different kind of production. I think this is a solution, especially if the public is asking the power company to go to solar," Artiaga said.

Martinez said the overlay zone would require solar developments be put on 40 acres of land or larger.

"These kinds of facilities need a good amount of open, continuous space," he said. "It would be hard to put one in the middle of the Rio Grande Valley area."

Martinez emphasized again that the existing zoning would not be negated by the overlay, but would simply remain until the solar facility was no longer there.

A request for an overlay approval would also trigger notification to neighbors and adjoining property owners, Martinez said, just like a zone change does now.


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