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A decision may come March 25 that determines Corrales’ eventual population as well as the safety of people living in homes below steep terrain sandhills. The Village Council will hear an appeal from the Planning and Zoning Commission’s denial of a variance that would have allowed construction of a roadway across steep slopes below the escarpment to access a proposed home site between the end of West Ella Drive and the Rio Rancho boundary.

At its January 20 session, the P&Z commission concurred with a recommendation from P&Z Administrator Laurie Stout that a developer’s requested variance from regulations regarding development on steep slopes be denied. The applicants, Denny and Crystal Frost of 10852 Arezzo Drive, Albuquerque, representing contractor Gary Bennett, argued he should be allowed to built a long driveway to the home site from the end of West Ella Drive over terrain that in some places is more than 15 percent grade, the maximum allowed by Corrales’ regulations.

The commission itself never ruled on the requested variance since Stout had advised the developer’s plan was not permitted. In her recommendation on Variance 21-02, Stout wrote, “Village Code 18-164(c)2(c) states that slopes over 15 percent must remain undisturbed. It then gives the possibility of a variance of up to 1,000 square feet in certain instances (a driveway being one), and the criteria that must be met for that 1,000 square feet of variance to be considered. If the issue were one merely of engineering, typically it can be satisfactorily demonstrated that anything ‘can’ be built. In this case, Village ordinances simply do not allow for the extreme amount of slope over 15 percent that is being proposed to be disturbed.” But the proposed steep area of disturbed soil, in this case generally fine particle sand, is more than 13,200 square feet —well over the 1,000 square foot limit.
The proposed home foot print is another 918 square feet, although that is on more level terrain.

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Stout’s summary notes that “This application requests a total of 14,118 square feet of disturbance over 15 percent slope, 14 times what Village of Corrales ordinances allow.” The submitted application for a variance includes more than 50 pages of documentation regarding plans for the home and the driveway off of West Ella Drive. The developer said at least $20,000 had been spent on engineering for the project. and that the Village’s denial of a variance will “deprive the owner of the reasonable use of their land.”

The applicant asserts that the engineer’s design show that stormwater run-off and eroded silt will not affect nearby property. If the Village Council concurs with the developer and allows the proposed extensive disturbance at this location, the decision could have far-reaching implications for future home construction in steep sandhills terrain all along Corrales’ western border. Perhaps for that reason, the case has sparked the attention of many villagers not immediately impacted by the project.

A citizens’ petition opposing the Frost-Bennett variance request bears at least 85 signatures. The petition leads with an assertion that “This is in contraindication to the long standing maximum limit of 15 percent that was researched at length for the safety of all residents, especially those in the sandhills.”

It also lists the circumstances under which a variance might be granted. Those include a determination that approval will not be contrary to the public interest; will not adversely affect adjacent property owners; the need for a variance “is due to the unique characteristics of the property that were in existence prior to the adoption [of the regulations’ or that may have come into existence since that time through no action of the owner.”

Among those signing the petition were former Mayor Gary Kanin, former Councillors Pat Clauser and Gerard Gagliano and former P&Z Commissioners Terry Brown and Alpha Russell. A West Ella homeowner, Kevin Kirk, submitted a statement opposing the variance saying, “The sandhills of Corrales have a long history of extreme erosion events caused by stormwater run-off. The Village has, in conjunction with experts, determined that to allow development on steep slopes would be to invite disastrous and costly erosion.”

A lengthy and detailed presentation to the P&Z commission was submitted by West Ella resident Mike Sorce, who is another former P&Z commissioner, and architect Pat McClernon. In it, they point out that Denzil Frost purchased the 2.4-acre home site in July 2019 after detailed discussions with P&Z Administrator Stout about his intention to build on the acreage. The submission includes a copy of an email Stout sent to Village Administrator Ron Curry on September 11, 2020 which read, in part, “I told him numerous times I believed the lot was unbuildable and went over our slope ordinances in detail. He bought it anyway.”

The presentation by Sorce and McClernon includes the following observation: “It is unfortunate that the Frost family is in this described Catch-22 position, one that they placed themselves in over the last 18 months by purchasing this property expecting to build on an island surrounded by steep slopes.” The documents submitted regarding the variance request also includes an email message from Denzil Frost to Mayor Jo Anne Roake on September 3, 2020 complaining about what he considered threats by Stout. “We have heard some statements from Lorie during this process that raise concerns about the Village potentially taking possession of our land,” Frost wrote.

“For example, she has stated there is no guarantee it is a buildable lot, and suggested that the $20K that I am paying for engineering may be a waste if the variance is denied.

“However the P&Z administrator’s attitude has been threatening, insinuating that the Village may choose to condemn our property if they wish.…” In that statement, Frost’s use of the term “take” apparently refers to what might be called a “taking” by a governmental entity because the private property owner feels he or she is denied use of the land.

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