It has happened rarely, but at the Village Council’s October 26 session, two former councillors spoke out against a pending policy, urging they buck advice from the Village Attorney. The issue: tightening restrictions on growing marijuana in residential neighborhoods. The two ex-councillors, George Wright and Fred Hashimoto, urged the mayor and council to pass a law that would protect residents from common complaints lodged by people who live near cannabis-growing facilities, particularly odors and invasive night-time light.
Hashimoto and Wright had expected to comment on possible ammendments when the council returned to possible amendments to the ordinance on cannabis growing, but discovered it had not been placed on the October 26 agenda. Instead the two former council members addressed the mayor and council during the Corraleños Forum. Even before that, councillors grilled State Representative Daymon Ely on whether the coming session of the N.M. Legislature might alter state law to give communities greater control.
Ely, a strong proponent of de-criminalizing marijuana cultivation and use, explained that laws on cannabis are undergoing amendment elsewhere around the nation, “but you can’t just say no.”
Councillor Stu Murray asked Ely whether municipalities can effectively ban marijuana cultivation in certain areas, such as residential neighborhoods where such activities would be clearly incompatible.
Ely replied, “Yes, but you’ve got to be careful about that.” He went on to recommend that no action be taken to do that without close consultation with the Village Attorney and the N.M. Municipal League.
At a council work-study session several weeks ago, Hashimoto explained why regulations need to be tighter to protect homeowners from cannabis growers. He followed that with a letter to the mayor and council last month.
“The most pressing matter is to approve an amendment reinstating provisions from Ordinance 18-002, Sections 2 and 3 which prohibit cannabis cultivation, manufacture and distribution from A-1 and A-2 zones with the exception for personal production. Councillor Burkett and others who advocate this are spot on.
“At the work-study session, it was mentioned that amendment No.1 regarding ‘place’ of activity might be reasonable, given who we are as a village. I’d like to speak to that.
“Corrales has had a long history of restricting commercial activities to its neighborhood commercial zones to protect residential neighborhoods from untoward effects of commercial activity, especially those neighborhoods in close proximity to commercial zones.
“I’ve been involved, in one way or another, with the Zoning Ordinance for 35 years. I recall that in the late 1980s, the people who owned the land where the current Montessori School and its parking lot (and land extending east to the Sandoval Lateral) sit, wanted to put in a strip mall which would extend eastward significantly beyond the 350-foot zone limit. The adjacent neighborhood (I happened to live there then) objected strongly and a variance was not granted.
“In the last 35 years, this Corrales Road commercial area (CRCA) has not substantively changed area-wise. Little tweaks have occurred here and there but it is pretty much as it was.
“About 20 years ago, the Neighborhood Commercial Office District (NCOD) was established in the Far Northwest Sector which abuts Rio Rancho near its Northern Boulevard. This has afforded more commercial opportunity —a solar farm is there now— in a relatively low-density village area which is adjacent to the larger municipality and some of its commercial land.
“The Village’s two commercial zones (CRCD and NCOD) encompass a large area. CRCA is from Meadowlark Lane to Wagner Lane and is approximately 8,150 lineal feet. Multiplying this by 700 feet (350-foot depth allowable on each side) = 5,705,000 square feet = 131 acre.
“The NCOD is listed as 73.5 acres… Combined, the CRCA and NCOD contain 204 acres. This number was mentioned at the work-study session; somebody else gave me that number too.
“How big is 204 acres? Well, it’s 8,906,660 square feet; put in more recognizable terms, it’s about 1/3 the total acreage of the Corrales Bosque Preserve (662 acres). That’s a decent-sized commercial area for a village of 8,600 people.
“The gross leasable square footage of Cottonwood Mall is listed by Wikipedia as 1,041,680 square feet and Coronado Center is 1,154,000 square feet with 5,000 parking spaces. Corrales has much more commercial leasable space (8,906,660 x 0.25 (estimation by Urban Land Institute) than both of those malls combined, and the population it serves is miniscule compared with that served by the two malls.
“Corrales has a documented history of not wanting commercial cannabis activity in A-1 and A-2 zones.
“In 2017, Verdes Foundation proposed growing cannabis in a neighborhood residential (A-1 zoned) area. Potential neighbors were concerned about potential impacts on their quality of life and property values. They generated a petition signed by over 300 residents and hired an attorney to support their opposition. Because of significant neighborhood opposition, and beyond, and of lack of council support, Verdes backed out
“In the following year, council passed Ordinance 18-002, which clearly stated that cannabis production, manufacture and retailing should not be allowed in A-1 and A-2 zones. That unambiguously stated the Village’s position on commercial cannabis activities in residential neighborhoods. As time would have it, 18-002 has turned out to be a strong proactive —and not reactive to House Bill 2— statement.
“I would guess that few N.M. municipalities have such documentation of “who we are as a village” and history of opposition to commercial cannabis activities in neighborhood residential (like A-1 and A-2) zones. Los Ranchos would love to have that.
“Unfortunately, Corrales has a subdivision of upset residents who have had to deal on a regular and personal basis with the pungent cannabis growing odor from nearby (up to 1,000 feet away) medical cannabis greenhouses.
“With re-instating Sections 2 and 3 of Ordinance 18-002, commercial cannabis activities can still occur in the commercial zones CRCD and NCOD.
“Ordinance 18-002 prohibited cannabis growing in A-1, A-2 and H zones. It did not disallow cannabis growing in CRCA or NCOD.
“Although Corrales does not have an industrial zone like some other municipalities where cannabis growing, manufacturing and retailing are located separate from residential neighborhood areas, the CRCA and NCOD could be the designated cannabis areas in Corrales.
“Yes (as mentioned in the work-study session), buildings currently exist in CRCA and NCOD, but they do also in industrial zones in other municipalities. And yes, vacant land also exists in CRCA and NCOD.
“Also, greenhouse footprints for micro-business growers are small (could be <= 500 square feet). The footprints for intensively growing cannabis structures can be compact (several thousand square feet). Many of each can locate in the 200+ acres in CRCD and NCOD.
“Approve Amendment No.1 quickly.
It can be approved independently of other amendments which might need to be added in the future. It should be approved before any growers’ licenses are.
The State’s and Village’s laws are flawed, overly permissive and bend over backwards for commercial operations, large and small. Sure, some revenue will be generated for the State and its municipalities and counties. However, this income from cannabis permissiveness should not come at a cost that residential neighborhoods will bear.
“Corrales’s commercial zones are ample and the Village’s stance relative to them and to its strong, proactive opposition to commercial cannabis in residential neighborhoods is well- documented.
“The State’s House Bill 2 will be challenged. ‘Experts’ and attorneys give different opinions on different weeks and in different municipalities. The legislators who supported the law don’t seem sure about some of its aspects. No case law exists yet for commercial recreational cannabis because it hasn’t officially started. Perhaps, Corrales, because of its history, is in the best position to make a good case.
“Whatever the Village does, it can get sued. It might as well get sued doing the right thing, which can result in its being a victor in multiple ways including protecting residential neighborhoods’ quality of life and property values from the onslaught of glittery-appearing commercial cannabis activities.”