Construction of a large “casita” next to a new home underway at 489 West Ella Drive last month riled neighbors, including the mother of former Mayor Scott Kominiak. The former mayor says the current administration is playing favorites for what some villagers consider violations of the Village’s net one-acre subdivision rules. “This is about administrations and building inspectors signing off on things that do not comply with our code, unless you jump through three or four loopholes, while they hold long-term residents hostage to strict interpretation of the code as they see it,” Kominiak explained in an email to Corrales Comment August 17.
“If you are a high-dollar builder who knows how to skirt the rules and get approvals, you get a permit. If you inherit or buy a piece of land that was subdivided in 1955 and filed with the County —sorry! You cannot get a building permit.” The new home construction site on West Ella Drive is at least the third project in recent years where a house and “casita” have been built simultaneously in seeming contravention of the one-dwelling-per-acre regulations.
Corrales’ laws allow “casitas,” or guesthouses, on a one-acre lot, as long as the secondary residence does not have a full kitchen. And the builder at 489 West Ella, Wade Wingfield, assured Corrales Comment that the “casita” complies with that rule. “You can have a separate living quarters as long as it doesn’t have a fully-functioning kitchen,” Wingfield said August 11. “You can have a refrigerator, a microwave, a sink and anything else, but you just can’t have a stove and oven.” Wingfield said the project underway obtained all the permits and approvals through the Corrales Planning and Zoning Department.
But the resignation of Corrales Building Inspector Lee Brammeier last month may have exacerbated the controversy. His departure in early August left some projects in limbo. Brammeier was hired here in July 2018. His more than 14 years of building code enforcement included the City of Rio Rancho; City of Albuquerque; Los Alamos County and Sandia Pueblo.
Brammeier served as president of the Central N.M. Chapter of Building Officials and served on the International Code Council’s committee, updating standards for residential green building. He has training as a licensed general contractor, as an electrical inspector, plumbing inspector, mechanical inspector and energy plan examiner.
The former mayor’s mother, Patricia Kominiak, was one of six villagers who wrote to Mayor Jo Anne Roake August 13 protesting the project at 489 West Ella. Others were Charlotte Anderson, Dan and Estelle Metz, and Joe and Meryl Hancock. “Secondary dwellings, guest houses or ‘casitas’ are simply not allowed in our land use codes, and it is therefore a mystery to us how the Village would issue a permit for such development, yet you appear to be doing so,” they wrote.
“Multiple inquiries to the building inspector about this question have been effectively ignored. No information has been made available about the project in question, and it was not until construction was well underway that the problem became apparent to us and our fears were confirmed.
“There is no building permit posted on the property, which we understand is required by law.” Since the earliest days of Corrales’ incorporation as a municipality in 1971, a bedrock policy has been adherence to low-density housing. Candidates for elective office here have always vowed to protect the one-acre minimum lot size rule.
But even going back to the early 1970s, many Corrales properties already had “casitas” which were often rented for extra income. Commonly, property owners would seek permission for secondary dwellings so that a relative or other caregiver could assist an ailing or aged resident in the big house. But even such hardship cases were often denied.
Still, for many Corraleños, it has been a truism that sooner or later the one-acre minimum rule would fall. If and when that day comes, the quality of Corrales’ drinking water will become an unavoidable issue. Corrales Planning and Zoning Administrator Laurie Stout explained how the casita on West Ella gained approval, and suggested the Village Council may re-visit the rules in the months ahead. “In Section 18-29, the definition of dwelling unit in Village Code states: dwelling unit means any building or part of a building intended for human occupancy and containing one or more connected rooms and a single kitchen, designed for one family for living and sleeping purposes.”
The definition of kitchen, she added, “means any room principally used, intended or designed to be used for cooking or the preparation of food. The presence of a range or oven, or utility connections suitable for servicing a range or oven, shall be considered as establishing a kitchen.
“This means a second structure on a lot, as long as there is no range or oven (or utility connections for such) meets the letter of the law in Village of Corrales Code. Contractors can and will exploit this loophole if their clients request.” Stout said the mayor and council may try to tighten up relevant regulations.
“Potential options in Corrales could be looking into limiting the size of the accessory unit, requiring that it merely be an addition to the home, etc. The intent of the N.M. Statute is to allow family members, such as elderly parents, to live on-property with their relatives. “The reality is that often at some point the separate structure ends up having a kitchen added retroactively, and that structure eventually becomes a long-term rental with a tenant —thus becoming a zoning violation.”