The concept of cluster housing may be revived after discussion at the March 9 Village Council meeting. The topic was requested for that session by Councillor Mel Knight at the February 23 meeting but that agenda had not been set at press time. Knight said she would like the review being conducted by planners with the Mid-Region Council of Governments on Corrales land use regulations to include two new topics, not just revisions to provisions already in the Code of Ordinances on land use and zoning: abandoned properties and cluster housing.
Over the past three decades, when the topic of cluster housing has come up, it has nearly always involved grouping housing on one part of a tract so that the remainder could be preserved as farmland or open space. But that may not be what Knight has in mind. When she requested that cluster housing be discussed at the March 9 meeting, she referred to Corrales’ commercial area. “I would like the committee to address, in the commercial zone, cluster housing.” The committee she referred to is that which has been formed to interface with the Council of Governments planners.
Her specifying cluster housing in the business district would likely affect the proposal for a senior living complex on the Sunbelt Nursery site at the corner of Corrales Road and Dixon Road. (See Corrales Comment Vol.XXXIX No. 22 February 6, 2020 “Senior Living Rentals for Commercial District?”) Although contemplated in successive comprehensive plans for Corrales since the earliest days of the community’s incorporation as a municipality, proposals for cluster housing have nearly always been rejected by the Planning and Zoning Commission and by the Village Council.
That is primarily because the citizenry has remained adamant about retaining the community’s low-density residential tradition… even when that means loss of farmland. Since the early 1970s, Corrales’ land use laws have called for no more than one dwelling per acre, or per two acres in the territory previously within Bernalillo County. That has been bed rock consensus since the Village’s first comprehensive plan in 1973; it was strenuously reaffirmed with the successive election of Gary Kanin as mayor in the 1980s. (See Corrales Comment’s five-part series of articles on cluster housing starting with Vol.XXIII No.19 November 20, 2004 “Is Cluster Housing Acceptable In Corrales To Save Open Space?”)
One of the more recent cases came November 2004 when the Planning and Zoning Commission voted down a preliminary plat for an 18-lot “Villa de Paz” subdivision off Loma Larga on Corrales’ west side between Camino Sin Pasada and Angel Road. Plenty of reasons existed why commissioners axed the plan, but after doing so, several of them urged the developer, Ed Paschich, to try again. He says he would not… at least not until Village officials enacted ordinance provisions specifically for cluster housing. That has been a perennial topic with which the P&Z commission has wrestled over several decades as it attempted to revise Corrales’ zoning and subdivision ordinances.
In simplest terms, cluster housing is the concept of building all the allowable residences for a tract of land on one end and leaving the rest as open space. In Corrales, where a landowner is allowed just one home per acre and he or she has a 20-acre tract, 20 houses are allowed. But instead of dividing all 20 acres into one-acre lots, clustering might put all 20 allowable homes on ten acres and leave the other ten as dedicated open space.
Actually that example is too simple. Typically the owner of a 20-acre tract won’t get 20 one-acre lots, because the roadway serving the subdivision cannot be counted in calculating lot size. Subtracting out the roadway, a 20-acre tract might yield just 17-19 lots, depending on configuration. The plan proposed by Paschich back in 2004 would have put 18 smallish houses on 17.8 acres, but the homes were to have been grouped into five separate clusters with eight acres open space between. At the November 3, 2004 P&Z meeting, commissioners praised Paschich for his creativity, but rejected the plan. They —and the neighbors— found several violations of current Village ordinances, but settled on one particular reason for rejecting the plat.
Paschich had included the road serving the proposed subdivision as privately-owned and therefore to be counted as part of the one-acre lot calculation. Commissioners voted down the plat on the grounds that the Village’s subdivision ordinance requires publicly-dedicated roadways, not private roads, for any subdivision of ten acres or more.
Paschich was, of course, aware of that requirement, and had sought a variance, one of several that would have been needed to proceed. When commissioners rejected that variance request, the rest of the proposal was irrelevant. But before Paschich left the meeting, then-P&Z Chairman Stuart Murray, now 16 years later a member of the Village Council, urged, “Mr. Paschich, please pursue this” with a revised submission for cluster housing.
The following week, members of the Village Council briefly discussed the Paschich plan, and called for a public meeting to air the whole notion of cluster housing. At the time, probably most of the residents along Camino Sin Pasada and Angel Road who spoke against the Paschich subdivision said they were not actually opposed to cluster housing. It was the specifics of Paschich’s plan that were unacceptable, they maintained.
It seemed clear that most of the P&Z commissioners agreed; all but one, Mick Harper —16 years later again serving on the commission— voted against the road variance that killed the Paschich plan that night. For decades, a significant portion of Corrales residents have supported the idea of cluster housing for two reasons. First, it would be a chance to establish more affordable housing in Corrales, which has become a place where only the very wealthy can afford to live. Second, such proposals are a way to retain open space, a quickly vanishing community asset.
The need for affordable housing in Corrales has been recognized for some time. One of the down-sides of skyrocketing home prices (and extreme scarcity of rentals) hit home when Corrales’ fire fighters pointed out they could not afford to live here. (See Corrales Comment Vol. XXII No. 21, December 13, 2003 “Fire-Rescue Crews Can’t Live Here) The same has been true for most police officers and other Village employees. A third reason for finding a way to approve cluster housing which has been voiced in recent years is that some aging, true-blue Corraleños don’t want to continue maintaining an acre of land, but would like to stay in Corrales if possible.