Prospects that the Village might buy the Corrales Road frontage adjacent to, and just north of, Wells Fargo Bank advanced in late summer. An appraisal is expected this month or next for the vacant three acres owned by descendants of Corrales’ founder, Juan Gonzales Bas, for possible use as a “village center” linking the Village Office complex east of Corrales Road, La Entrada Park and the library, and the 5.5-acre heritage farm extending west to the Corrales Acequia ditch bank.
A sustained effort by villagers to acquire the Gonzales property for a variety of public purposes began more than four years ago, although elected officials remained mostly lukewarm to the idea. Finally, back in May, an ad hoc Heritage Park Planning Committee mounted a new push that apparently persuaded the Village Council to seek an appraisal on the parcel that has been zoned for commercial use since the 1980s.
Discussions by the mayor and council have come mainly in executive (closed) sessions which is typical when the governing body is considering real estate transactions. But at the tail end of the Village Council’s September 28 meeting, Councillor Mel Knight suggested she would like an update on the Village’s exploration of that option, wondering whether an appraisal had come in.
Village Administrator Ron Curry replied guardedly that those discussions had taken place in a closed session, but added he expected to be able to report to councillors within 60 to 90 days from August 6. The ad hoc committee’s May 13, 2021 proposal to the mayor and council laid out its rationale why the Village should at least move ahead with obtaining an appraisal on what it called “The Gonzales Three-Acre Property: the real estate investment for the future.”
Below are excerpts of the proposal which had drawn support from numerous civic groups and Village-appointed committees. The document was written primarily by former Village Councillor Fred Hashimoto and John Thompson, chairman of the Corrales Landmark Tree Preservation Advisory Committee, which advocated “establishing an arboretum of trees which would feature: open space, recreation, education (trees appropriate to Corrales; school gardens, etc.), shade, possible heritage plantings (like grapevines…; hence, a “Heritage Park.”)
The May 2021 proposal continued: “Architects and land-use planners became involved and a new paradigm evolved: Corrales owning the Gonzales three acres property as a centrally-located, potentially multi-use- — all ages and abilities— open space. Mention has been made of a Heritage Park and a Village Center, but those are only some possibilities for a central Village open space.”
In an email to Corrales Comment October 2, Hashimoto said he had been in contact with Gonzales family members who remain especially interested in selling the three acres to the Villlage of Corrales, as they had been to selling the 5.5-acre tract farther west which has been saved as farmland in perpetuity as the “Juan Gonzales Bas Heritage Farm.”
Hashimoto said the descendants would welcome working with the Village on this. I believe that other interest in the property has been received by the family, but they still prefer that the Village ends up owning the land.
“Several years ago, when some of us met with Hector Gonzales, he clearly stated that. Although the family (many of Hector’s remaining siblings are elderly and live in another state) would like to sell the land, they have n ot placed it on the open market, hoping that something can be worked out with the Village.
“For the last three to four years, this has been a consideration.”
(See Corrales Comment Vol.XXXVI No.9 July 8, 2017 “C-Zoned for Decades, New Ideas for Gonzales Frontage.”)
The May 13 proposal made the point that the three-acre frontage next to the bank “can serve as a natural leading gateway to the Gonzales Bas 5.5-acre farmland, which, to this time, has been obscure to many Corraleños.
“The Village will own both sides of Corrales Road and have a municipal presence there visible and identifiable to people in the many thousands of cars which pass by daily.
“This private three-acre space has been used (courtesy of the Gonzales family) by Village residents during parades, festivals and rallies. Having this as a public space will ensure unencumbered Village use. The space-enhanced area could be conceived as a Village Center, which has been historically and geographically core to many municipalities, local and worldwide.”
The document quotes Corrales architect Pat McClernon explaining “With the Village owning both sides of Corrales road, this would leverage the past investments and build upon community success for all proposed activities benefiting village residents as well as our guests from outside the village.”
Another Corrales architect-planner, Ed Boles who has specialized in hist oric preservation, put it this way back in 2018: “Forward-looking acquisition of pivotal land in the center of the Village may yield both tangible and intangible benefits. In economic revitalization circles it is well known that strategic public investment, including recreational and cultural projects, can help stimulate private sector development.”
The committee’s proposal argues “This Gonzales-owned three acres is the most historic farmland in the village. It has been single-family owned since 1712. Back in those times, Juan Gonzales Bas raised sheep in corrals. Many believe that that’s how the village became named ‘Corrales.’
“If the Village desires, some of the land can be leased out to commercial business(es). Owning the property gives the Village more control over how it’s used. More than a dozen years ago, a developer proposed building a large office complex there which would have blocked the viewshed to the west. This blocking did not please P&Z chairperson Terry Brown, but given their ordinance guidelines, P&Z could not stop it. The developer developed a health problem and the complex did not materialize. However, if the Village owns the land and decides to have commercial there, it has more control over site and development plans than P&Z could have….”
“Over the last several years, the three acres, in one form or another, have been discussed at dozens of our meetings. Participants have included those from the Corrales Landmark Tree Preservation Advisory Committee, architects and members of volunteer groups such as Corrales Arts Partners, Sandoval Master Gardeners, Native Plant Society of New Mexico, Corrales Tree Stewards, Parks and Recreation.
“Once the Village owns the three acres, these organizations, in addition to Corrales Main Street and the 4-H Club, could help with planning, implementation and maintenance for the open space.
“Volunteerism in the Village is a positive movement. People working together to make the village better is powerful, and benefits Corrales in more ways than just the material projects produced. The many who have worked for the three-acre concept are such volunteers.
“They have zero personal vested interests in the Village purchasing and developing the three acres except that it brightens the village’s future.
“To purchase and own the 3A is something the Village should do. It’s just some empty land now, but it can be much more. (Unfortunately, it could be much worse, and that’s just another reason why the Village should own it.)
“Currently, the Corrales Historical Society is celebrating ‘300 Years of Corrales Heritage and 50 Years of Village Incorporation.” The three acres goes back those 300+ years. Wouldn’t it be fitting for the Village to purchase this very unique piece of Corrales heritage in the 50th year of its incorporation to solidify its standing and for the betterment of its future?”
When he proposed the purchase agreement for what is now the heritage farm at the May 13, 2008 Village Council meeting, then-Mayor Phil Gasteyer called it “the historic centerpiece for the Village of Corrales.”
But the purchase did not include the front three acres of the tract, just north of Wells Fargo Bank. That frontage was sold to developer Jack Westman who hoped to build an office complex there.
However, he was key to arranging the deal by which the Village acquired the family’s 5.5 acres to the west, adjacent to the acequia, which otherwise would have become a housing development.
“I have to give Jack Westman a lot of credit,” said Hector Gonzales. “He had a lot to do with working this agreement out. He’s the one who took the lead on it.
“He talked to the people in the Village [Office] who have the answers to what we wanted to do,” Gonzales explained. “You know, I have tried for years to get the Village to buy it, but it always seemed like they wanted to go in the opposite direction.”
He said he thought the Village should have purchased the entire tract, including the frontage slated for offices, “but I understand the Village doesn’t have a lot of money to do something like that.”
The resolution approved by the Village Council May 13, 2008 authorized the mayor to enter into a purchase agreement for the westerly 5.5 acres of the front parcel (not including the three acres zoned commercial).
The resolution also called for purchase of water rights sufficient to keep the land in cultivation. Selling price for the property was $1,256,445, and water rights cost $231,000 for a total of $1,487,445.
Funds to pay for the acquisition came from the Village’s general obligation municipal bonds approved by voters for farmland preservation in August 2004 and from grants such as those provided by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Farm and Ranch Land Preservation Program.
Hector Gonzales said his ancestors once owned all of what is now Corrales and Rio Rancho, holding lands as far south as the Calabacillas Arroyo and as far east as what is now Edith Boulevard, since that’s where the Rio Grande then ran. To the west, the Gonzales property went all the way to the Rio Puerco.
“My family would like to see that heritage recognized” in what happens on its remaining farmland in Corrales, he said.
Hector Gonzales died in March 2019.