A draft ordinance regulating opaque walls and fences along the Corrales Road Scenic Byway is expected to be introduced at the September 28 Village Council meeting. The proposed law likely will mirror that enacted by the Village of Los Ranchos to protect scenic quality along Rio Grande Boulevard. At the September 14 council meeting, Councillor Zach Burkett asked that the topic be on the agenda for the next meeting. Mayor Jo Anne Roake agreed.
In an email September 16, Burkett said he anticipates Planning and Zoning Administrator Laurie Stout will have a draft ordinance. “I think Ms Stout has a draft in the works that will be our starting point of discussion.” Other council members have spoken in favor of such regulations aimed at maintaining scenic quality along Corrales Road. (See Corrales Comment Vol.XXXX No.4 April 10, 2021 “No Moratorium on New Walls Along Corrales Road.”) The current push to protect scenic views began shortly after erection of tall cinder block walls fronting Corrales Road at the south end of the valley last year. Burkett said he regretted that such walls had been permitted and asked that the council consider what might be done to prevent the same from happening all along the road.
A former chairman of the P&Z commission, architect Terry Brown, had tried to persuade the Village Council to pass such an ordinance 10 years ago, but councillors balked and the initiative died. Perhaps the biggest stumbling block was that the 2011 draft ordinance seemed to apply to other roadways throughout Corrales and at intersections where walls would block visibility. The council sent the draft back to P&Z for more work, but a revision was never submitted. (See Corrales Comment Vol.XXXX No.2, March 6, 2021 “Council Revives Interest in Corrales Road Scenic Quality.”)
The Village of Los Ranchos regulations on walls along Rio Grande Boulevard were discussed at two previous council meetings. Those regulations were explained as follows by P&Z Administrator Stout. “Los Ranchos uses the idea of low and open walls/fences. They restrict height of all fences to six feet. Solid walls within the front setback can only be four feet with an option to add additional open fencing on top of that to a maximum of six feet total. No solid wall or fence shall be located within the clear sight triangle of a driveway and a public or private right-of-way.”
At the March 23, 2021 council meeting, all members of the governing body supported the goal of protecting scenic quality along Corrales Road, possibly with a new ordinance modeled after that used for Rio Grande Boulevard. Councilor Kevin Lucero made the point that any decisions on this issue will have implications for the quality of life in Corrales for decades. “The decisions we make in the coming months will determine what Corrales looks like over the next ten, 20, 25 years. What we want Corrales to look like for future generations.”
Burkett tried to head off the controversy that scuttled the 2011 draft law by saying he did not expect any regulation that would apply to roads except Corrales Road and possibly the historic zone near the Old Church and San Ysidro Museum. To try to include other neighborhoods would be opening a can of worms, he cautioned. Last spring, Stout was asked to evaluate the Los Ranchos ordinance to protect scenery along Rio Grande Boulevard and whether it achieves a balance for landowners’ privacy.
“What the Los Ranchos ordinance does is that it allows a modicum of privacy since you’ve got your walls to a certain extent but with an open pattern at the top. And they also have setbacks that we can look at for a front fence. That would be another option.
“It allows people to keep their animals in and keep other animals out, as the case may be. As you drive down Rio Grande Boulevard, it is a delightful experience. You can see the farmland, the large lots, the architecture. Corrales Road is a scenic byway, so looking at an ordinance would certainly be appropriate to balance the rights of the property owner with the overall feel that we want to keep here in Corrales.”
Former Corrales Planing and Zoning Commission Chairman Terry Brown has made that a high priority since at least 2010.
In a power point presentation to the Corrales Planning and Zoning Commission on April 12, 2011, Brown demonstrated what has been lost by view-blocking walls along Corrales Road and what has been preserved by see-through fences and low walls.
But for other Corraleños, the idea that Village officials might tell them what kind of fence is permissible reeks of governmental over-reach and offends libertarian values.
At the December 8, 2020 Village Council meeting, Councillor Burkett said he would like to see incentives by Village government to encourage other styles of walls or fences that do not inhibit views.
He said he wanted the council to address the issue after seeing such tall, solid walls erected by builder Steve Nakamura on two properties at the south end of Corrales over the past year.
Similar long walls have gone up adjacent to Corrales Road at the north end in recent years, creating what Brown has referred to as a “canyon” effect that destroy the scenic quality for which Corrales has been known for many years. When Brown heard of Burkett’s interest, he said he looked forward to collaborating on a proposal to address the worsening situation. “When I was chair of the Corrales Planning and Zoning Commission, the last issue I tried to get a reluctant council to approve was a recommendation for a requirement for a partially open wall ordinance along Corrales Road.
“The new CMU walls being built by Mr. Nakamura at the south end of Corrales are the antithesis of what Corrales needs,” Brown added.
“Look at the fencing along Rio Grande. This is what I envision for our village, and what is desperately needed to protect the views along the Corrales ‘scenic byway.’”
Views along Corrales Road of pastures, horses, farms, orchards, vineyards and old tractors are central to this community’s character and perhaps even its economic vitality.
A degree of national recognition for those attributes was gained in 1995 when Corrales Road was designated a “scenic and historic byway.” But a Village-appointed byways corridor management committee disbanded amid controversy more than a decade ago and was never fully reconstituted.
Brown, an architect, is concerned that the community’s treasured scenic quality is being incrementally lost due to an unfortunate landscaping feature: view-blocking solid walls or fences at the edge of the road.
“I was on the Planning and Zoning Commission for eight years, and I was the chair for two years. As an architect, I felt strongly that we needed to protect this view, this viewshed from Corrales Road,” Brown explained.
“People come here to see Corrales… they don’t come here to look at walls and fences. They come here to see horses and donkeys and llamas and cows, and the views that stretch from the fields to the riparian habitat and all the way to the Sandias.
“They don’t want to see walls; they don’t want to see that ‘canyon effect.’”
Back in 2010-11, Brown and others pushed hard for the Village Council to adopt an ordinance or regulation that would prohibit owners of property abutting Corrales Road from erecting a solid fence or wall taller than three feet at the road frontage property line.
Draft Ordinance 11-007, amending the Village’s land use regulations regarding fences, was tabled at a February 2011 council meeting and never revived for vote.
No other proposals have been pursued, and tall cinder block walls and wooden fences continue to go up, blocking views.
Corrales is left vulnerable, Brown cautioned. “In some places we have a tall wall along one side of Corrales Road, but it’s left open on the other side. I guess that’s probably acceptable,” he volunteered. “But what if a developer or homeowner says ‘Hey, I need to have more opacity on my side of the road, too.’ And then, the next guy says the same thing, and pretty soon, a hundred years from now, Corrales Road will be just one long canyon.”
On the other side of the river, regulations for Rio Grande Boulevard have apparently closed off that undesired future. “I believe along Rio Grande Boulevard you can only have a limited expanse of opaque wall and the rest of it has to be open. The walls are low; for the most part, you can see over them or through them,” Brown pointed out.
“Since Corrales Road is a scenic byway, I think it is worthy of getting the same treatment.”