Despite new regulations on guest houses, or “casitas,” in an ordinance considered at the June 16 Village Council meeting, such secondary dwellings are sure to remain controversial. Councillors’ vote on Ordinance 21-04 “amending Section 18-29 of the Village Land Use Code to Provide Clarity to the Definitions of Accessory Structures, Accessory Use, Kitchen and Dwelling Unit” could not be included in this issue, but the new law was expected to be adopted. Corrales’ basic land use laws have always been meant to maintain low residential density, especially to avoid contamination of domestic wells due to septic discharges. To achieve that, in most of Corrales, lots were to be at least one acre, upon which only one home could be built. Until now, secondary living quarters were permissible only if they did not include a kitchen.
But therein lay the need for a better definition of what constitutes a kitchen. Proposed Ordinance 21-04 put it this way. “Kitchen means any room used, intended or designed to be used for cooking or the preparation of food or containing a range or oven, or utility connections suitable for servicing a range or oven.” So a refrigerator would seem to be allowed; is a microwave oven an oven, even if you only want to heat water for tea? And the ordinance considered at the June 16 council meeting included this definition of an accessory building or structure: “a building detached from and incidental and subordinate to the dwelling unit and located on the same lot, such as a detached garage, workshop or studio. It may have a half bathroom, but no shower or tub, and may not contain bedrooms or a kitchen. It shall not be used as a dwelling for human occupancy or habitation.”
More clarity was to be instituted by the following definition of dwelling unit. “One or more rooms and a single kitchen designed as a unit for human occupancy or habitation by one family for living and sleeping purposes, but not including recreational vehicles, travel trailers or converted buses, whether on wheels or a permanent foundation. A dwelling unit may be a mobile home, modular home, manufactured home or site-built house. It may also be an independent unit or an apartment, townhouse or other such multiple-unit residential structure where allowed.” Since Corrales incorporated as a municipality in 1971, a bedrock community consensus prevailed that regulations were needed to retain a rural, or at least a semi-rural, character, and that an essential tool to accomplish that were restrictions on how many dwellings could be built on one acre (or on two acres in the south end of Corrales that was formerly within Bernalillo County).
However, from the beginning, political and social pressures arose to accommodate special circumstances, such as allowing a mobile home to be temporarily placed on a one-acre lot so that the son or daughter of an aged or ailing parent could provide care. But after the family crisis had passed, how would it be assured that the secondary dwelling was removed… and not rented out for supplemental income? And what if construction of a “casita,” an actual house, was permitted for that purpose, would the Village actually require that it be demolished? The council’s deliberations on regulations for casitas were informed by results of a survey among citizens produced by the Planning and Zoning Commission this past April and May. Responses came in online via a SurveyMonkey format and by a printed questionnaire submitted to the Village Office.
Of the 182 responses, the viewpoints collected came predominately from people who have lived in Corrales more than 20 years. Just 33 of the 182 responses were submitted by people here for five years or less. Fifty-two percent were between 61 and 75 years old. Seventy-two percent of respondents said they are extremely concerned or very concerned about the negative impact to domestic wells from increased density resulting from secondary dwellings. A section of the survey on “regulation of the construction of new casitas” asked whether villagers agreed with imposing new regulations that would ban new casitas. Forty-five percent said yes, they agreed or strongly agreed with that idea. But the most favored new regulation would be to “limit the total square footage of all dwellings on a lot,” 71 percent of respondents agreed or strongly agreed. Still, 28.8 percent strongly disagreed with banning construction of new casitas.
P&Z Chairman John McCandless told Corrales Comment he was struck by “the apparent disconnect between the predominant concern expressed about casitas —the impact on groundwater quality— and the favored policy suggestions. I found it interesting that only about a third of the respondents thought it would be a good idea to require all new casitas to be connected to a Village wastewater system. “There are a number of possible explanations, including the fact that we don’t have much of a wastewater system at this time, but it seemed counter-intuitive to me that folks would be concerned about groundwater contamination and yet not generally support connection to a sewer system.”
Considerable insights are offered in the respondents’ open-ended comments submitted. Below are samples. Identities were not given.
• “Casitas adversely increase the population density and directly contravene the one-house-per-acre which is vital in making Corrales. Corrales is literally surrounded by towns and cities with higher density: anyone who wants more can go there. Casitas and multiple houses, like those on the West Ella lot, diminish the value of our investment in our properties and will turn Corrales into just another overbuilt suburb. Trying to force a change in the village this catastrophic 50 years on is a disservice to everyone who has lived here and made Corrales as attractive as the newcomers find it. If the administration simply enforced the existing ordinances and followed the Comprehensive Plan, we would not be in the sorry situation that the fecklessness of the Village employees has created.”
• “The issue of casitas is not as big as the huge houses going up that can accommodate more people than a modest home and casita can. Some of the garages on the new homes could easily be turned into casitas and the Village would be none the wiser.”
• “Prospective regulations for casitas should address whether the intended occupant(s) is a family member/relative versus one who is not, giving favorable consideration to a proposed casita for family members/relatives. Concurrently, the regs need to address what happens when ownership changes, i.e. not allowing occupancy of a casita by non- family members/ relatives.”
• “Casitas serve a lot of residents in the community for family members. Maybe provide a grace period of two years for any commercial renting or use to deter over-population of casitas and permits.”
• “Casitas are a dodge to avoid existing rules. If you allow casitas, Corrales will end up just like every other suburb... a sort of East Rio Rancho.”
• “There are many elderly folks living in Corrales, and having a casita to rent out, or they live in and rent the house that allows them to stay in their homes. What I don't like are these extremely large homes on an acre that then add a large casita.”
• “A casita can be a community asset. It brings income to the community. It can allow family to be close, or a small home in a rural setting, or a space for visitors, which may assist with income for owners. A casita is typically a small build.”
• “Casitas are being used to get around the housing density rules of the village and for use as Airbnbs. They are turning single family residential areas into multi-family residential areas,either on a full-time or part-time basis. Allowing casitas is letting unscrupulous people change the nature of the village. Please stop this!”
• “We are interested in building a casita for an aging parent. The idea of banning casitas is shocking and unjust. Perhaps if there is concern over vacation renting, that should be addressed. Banning casitas is not the way to go.”
• “I believe that the Village should permit construction of new casitas. For several specific items, such as short term rentals or even wastewater, appropriate regulations can manage the issues. Rather than banning casitas, let’s benchmark and use good regulations. Home owners deserve to be able to build casitas in order to house aging parents, set up business and art studios, have room for guests, or even make some needed money.
• “Corrales is a special place for not only those that live there, but for those that don't. I have lived in the Albuquerque area for most of my life, and Corrales is one of only a few remaining places in the metro area with a relaxed, rural lifestyle and appeal. Mega-homes (+4000 sf) should be restricted to mega-lots (3-acres plus) and multi-home dwellings should be resisted at all costs. But ‘casitas’ are hard to regulate without consistent inspections and enforcements which take resources. However, with folks consistently moving in from other areas of the country, and local developers looking to cash in on the Corrales appeal, more of the trendy casita concepts come with them; I fear casitas will contribute to ruining the village as they will bring in more people and therefore contribute to the impacts summarized in the above survey.”
• “A tasteful casita can be a beautiful addition to the already stunning homes we have in our village. The vast numbers of deteriorating and dilapidated mobile homes and yards filled with broken down vehicles directly impact the landscape of the village. Why aren’t these eyesores being targeted by the Village instead of a stunning, beautiful addition to someone's already gorgeous home? Homeowners that add a casita to their property most likely already have a very tasteful and properly maintained property. Why would they not maintain the upkeep, appearance and regulate how the property is utilized? Having a casita option for an elderly parent to maintain some semblance of independence, yet have the close support and help from a family member on the same property, is at the top of my list as to why casitas should be allowed.”
• “Property owners in Corrales have paid a premium to live in a semi-rural Village with wide open spaces. If people want higher density and/or sewer systems, paved roads and two or more dwellings per acre, they should move to Rio Rancho, Bernalillo or Albuquerque. The vast majority of residents were drawn to live and invest in Corrales because the Village Code guarantees the rural/semi-rural lifestyle and the ability to keep horses and livestock, farm and enjoy irreplaceable attributes such as dark skies and low density. This administration has done a disservice to the residents by repeatedly moving to make Corrales an over-built nightmare run by developers, real estate agents and newcomers who want to recreate whatever paved and over-developed paradise they left.”
• “There is no circumstance, for any reason, regardless of the size or the utility connection that we should allow any more casitas . By allowing what you have done to date is destroying the very reasons we moved to Corrales 25 years ago, and I am sure I am not alone when saying that. This is not a vacation destination for the sake of procuring gross receipts taxes. It is our home. This administration, as well as past administration, have destroyed the very essence of Corrales. Stop the construction of casitas.”
• “The village should be concerned about the need for multi-generational housing and provisions for live-in help for the elderly. Our demographics are changing, and I believe state law is more generous about the need to accessory dwelling units. Corrales should recognize that there should be allowances made for those who would like to care for elderly relatives or might need the care of younger relatives and the housing needs that would accommodate such needs.”
• “Limiting growth in population is a founding policy of the Village. Increased residential population is a losing proposition for the Village as the amount of tax revenue derived from residential properties does not cover the cost of the services residents demand. Unfortunately, when you couple this with our historic views on limiting commercial development in favor of increased residential development, it means the Village will always struggle to pay for the services residents require.”
• “I think that people should be able to build on their own property to accommodate the needs of their family. Some families have extended memberships of multi-generations and people should be able to make the best decisions for their families’ comfort. Not all casitas are used for commercial/financial gain, so maybe the questioning should be based on who is using the casitas.”