A review and proposed revision of Corrales’ land use regulations will be carried out next year by the Mid-Region Council of Governments. Village officials expect to contract with the Albuquerque-based MRCOG by the end of the year to conduct such an assessment, according to Village Administrator Ron Curry.

The task will include a review of the Village’s Comprehensive Plan and related zoning and land use regulations covered in Chapter 18 of the Corrales Code of Ordinances. Topics for review are expected to include residential densities, commercial uses, outdoor lighting, signs, landscaping, cell towers, stormwater management and many others —as well as assessments as to whether villagers are complying with those regulations.

An outline provided by Curry indicates that MRCOG planners would “work with a possible steering committee to develop policy in regards to changes to the ordinances.” Recommendations would be submitted to the Corrales Planning and Zoning Commission as well as to the Village Council. Curry did not indicate how long such a review is expected to take.

In the outline provided to Corrales Comment December 11, Curry said the contract with MRCOG would include:
• review of the current Comprehensive Plan, which would include reviewing by zone category (Residential-Agricultural - One-Acre Minimum Lot Size; Residential Agricultural - Two-Acre Minimum; Commercial; Professional Office; Municipal; Historic; and Neighborhood Commercial - Office);
• conduct land use analysis to assess non-conforming lots;
• a matrix of current zoning ordinance requirements by zone to identify redundancies and gaps;
• create approval and permitting process flow chart to gauge language clarity and to identify if current practices align with the stated procedures.

“Our Village Attorney, Randy Autio, will be working with us step-by-step to ensure the legality of the work, plus add his experience as needed into the process,” Curry said, explaining that the tasks outlined above “represent data collection and research, outreach and input gathering, preparation of a document, and we will be able to update the Zone Map.

“These processes can be challenging, but we believe that with our knowledge base within the village, plus with the technical assistance of MRCOG, we will be successful.” Among the current hot topics sure to be addressed are the threat of increased residential density due to proliferation of “casitas” (secondary housing units in zones where only one dwelling per acre is permissible) and short-term rentals, as well as proposals for senior living complexes.

At the December 8 Village Council meeting, Councillor Stuart Murry requested a report from Curry on the Village’s regulations for casitas and short-term rentals. Corraleños’ concerns are growing over an apparent erosion of protections against increased housing density here. It came to a head earlier this year when a home builder erected a casita at the same time he built a new home on West Ella Drive. (See Corrales Comment Vol. XXXIX No.13 September 19, 2020 “West Ella ‘Casita’ Draws Neighbors’ Ire.”)

Construction of a large casita next to a new home underway at 489 West Ella Drive this past summer riled neighbors, including the mother of former Mayor Scott Kominiak. The former mayor said the current administration has played 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.

The construction site on West Ella Drive was 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 there 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. 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 due to septic leachfields. Last summer, 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.”

At that time, Stout said the mayor and council may try to tighten up relevant regulations. That review will apparently get under way next year, Curry told Corrales Comment December 11. “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.,” Stout said. “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.”

Controversy over increased requests to operate short-term rentals in Corrales burst into public view in late 2019. when a real estate investor began using the former church building at 5220 Corrales Road for rentals. (See Corrales Comment Vol.XXXVIII No.17 November 23, 2019 “Law Would Restrict Disruptive AirBnB Rentals.”)

At its August 21, 2019 session, the Corrales Planning and Zoning Commission grilled the late Nick Mystrom about his plans to use the residence as a rental through Airbnb. He had come before P&Z seeking approval for a home occupation permit, while admitting he had been renting it out for more than a year, several times for wedding events.

Several residents in the neighborhood attended the commission meeting to complain that activities, especially parties, at 5220 Corrales Road were disruptive and unpleasant. Mystrom died September 25, and the property changed hands. The incidents described by neighbors were just the latest complaints arising from rentals in residential areas; often problems have arisen when rowdy guests rent Corrales homes for the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta.

At the November 2019 Village Council meeting, where councillors agreed to post and publish an ordinance to establish better control over short-term rentals, and collect lodgers’ tax and gross receipts tax on such rentals, Stout reported “It is estimated that we have about 100 short-term rentals operating in the village,” Stout said. “Right now, we have no way to regulate them. This new ordinance will give us the tools to do that.”

The new law was adopted and later amended to better control parking and to clarify how many people could stay in such facilities at any given time. But those changes have not resolved the issues. A former member of the Corrales Planning and Zoning Commission, Mike Sorce told Corrales Comment December 12 that he had been called by a man in Wisconsin recently who wanted to buy his home near the top of West Ella Drive to use it for short-term rentals as an investment property.

The caller told Sorce he represented a group of investors who wanted to buy homes in Corrales for that purpose. Sorce warns that the Village needs to take action now to better control short-term rentals including Airbnbs. “If we don’t, we’re going to get overrun with these mini-motels.” Other communities around New Mexico have taken steps to meet the problem. On December 10, the Santa Fe City Council approved major changes to its regulations on short-term rentals.

Among the changes: no more than 1,000 permits will be allowed for short-term rentals in Santa Fe, no person can have more than one permit and no unit can be rented out more frequently than once in a seven-day period. The Village of Los Ranchos and the City of Albuquerque also have taken action, or are preparing to do so.

Los Ranchos Planning and Zoning Director Tiffany Justice explained the primary concerns this way. “Impact to Long-Term Housing Options: Short-term rentals can remove houses from the market and create neighborhoods of vacant homes during off-seasons. “Impact on Neighbors (character, sense of community, nuisances): Short-term rentals can change the character of a residential neighborhood to commercial if there are many of them on the same street, as there would be fewer familiar faces in the neighborhood. The likelihood of nuisance (noise, on-street parking, traffic, events) also increases as those who rent short-term rentals are usually on vacation or sometimes renting for a special event.

“Competition with Lodging Industry: In communities with a lot of tourism, short-term rentals collectively are a competitor to the established lodging industry, and there is a desire to ‘level the playing field.’”

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