The long-proposed senior living project at the corner of Corrales Road and Dixon Road inched closer to approval at the January 11 Village Council meeting when councillors expressed support —if it can be shown consistent with Corrales’ one dwelling per acre rule. That’s likely to be difficult since the  proposal by Frank Steiner, owner of the site where Sunbelt Nursery is now, has made it  clear that the project is to build 10 separate residences as a series of five duplexes on that 1.89-acre site.

Steiner has been persistent in demonstrating community support for his idea.  It has been strongly endorsed by Village in the Village (ViV) for more than two years; the proposal to the council January 11 was presented by that non-profit’s  Lawrence Blank. Also submitted were results of an online petition signed by more than 200 villagers. Notable among them were: Marg Elliston, Sue Evatt, Hope Gray, Jim Wright, Jerry Dusseau, Chris Allen, Chris Wentz, Susan Cahill, Bob Zachary, Hoyt Hart, Ben Blackwell and Greg Foltz.

The mayor and council were given a similar presentation last month. This time  Steiner and ViV urged a specific action by the council to move the project along: approve a special use permit and recommend it to the Planning and Zoning Commission.

Steiner suggested a year ago that “We need a majority of the councillors to vote for approval of this project and direct P&Z to offer the appropriate zoning solution.”

Councillors took no formal action on the request at the January 11 meeting. But Mayor Jo Anne Roake said Village Attorney Randy Autio would be directed to consider how the project might move ahead in collaboration with the P&Z board.

Councillor Zach Burkett seemed to speak for fellow councillors when he remarked “I like this issue a  lot. But we need to consider what precedent we might set. We need to find a way to make this work.”

But, he added, “Maybe we’re opening a can of worms.”

Councillor Stuart Murray also urged caution. “This could open a Pandora’s Box because it clearly violates our one-acre zoning ordinance.”

Murray also questioned the need for an application for a special use (SU) permit through the P&Z commission, since Village ordinances already allow an applicant to seek that designation.

Councillor Bill Woldman added, “I’d very much like to see the Village move forward on this.”

The Village Attorney said he would consult with P&Z to “see what the most direct route is to address this. It’s not a cut-and-dry issue.”

Mayor Roake said this kind of conflict might best be addressed through a long-delayed revision to the Corrales Comprehensive Plan. By state law, such plans are supposed to be the basis for municipal government policies and ordinances.

A decade ago, Village government went to extraordinary lengths to approve a much larger senior living project on 22 acres of the old Sandia View Academy property. (See Corrales Comment Vol. XXVIII, No. 2, March 7, 2009 “Proposal Would Turn Old Sandia View Academy Into Senior Living.”)

Despite Village approvals, the earlier project failed because the developer could not get the financing needed through the federal Housing and Urban Development (HUD) agency.

In 2009, the P&Z commission was asked for a zone change for the 22 acres along with two variances. One variance was to allow the developers to exceed the Village’s limits on structure height and the other on the length of time allowed to complete construction on elements of the site plan.

Eventually, Village officials found ways to permit the project, but it died without the financing.

With Steiner’s project, he said it would be developed through financing he himself would arrange.

The floor plan for the dwellings he proposed shows two bedrooms, two baths, kitchen, living room and dining room with another wing with bathrooms and kitchen separated by a two-car garage. Those features are enclosed within 1,290 square feet.

Steiner said his units would be “designed around senior living accommodations as defined by AARP,” including being wheelchair accessible and age-friendly bathroom facilties. The dwellings would also have “solar power with electric vehicle charging stations; installed greywater recycling system with up to 45 percent recapture of used water,” a waste water system that discharges to the municipal sewer line, and a “pet relief area with a synthetic grass cover over a catch basin that drains into the sewer line is planned.”

Addressing another contemporary issue, he said all “perimeter walls will be see-through to allow viewing of the extensive park-like landscaping.”

He said all maintenance on the units and grounds would be performed by the landlord.

In his presentation, Steiner argued his project would actually decrease development density in the commercial area. “It will not jeopardize the residential  neighborhood zoning of one dwelling per acre. We meet the P&Z requirement of a maximum of 35 percent lot coverage, and we are actually building less density than the commercial development just to the south of our property.”

The abandoned 2009 Sandia View Academy project included development of a vacant area of the Seventh Day Adventists’ property sold to partners David Dronet and David Abel.

That area south of the old school complex was to have been for independent living units referred to in promotional material as “The Villas in Corrales.”

(See Corrales Comment Vol.XXVIII No.14 September 5, 2009 “High-Density Residential Okayed South of Sandia View Academy.”)

The would-be developers’ Corrales Senior Living website described that component of the 22-acre development as follows. “The Villas is a unique community for seniors that provides all of the amenities and services its residents and members desire. Located on a one-of-a-kind 22-acre campus in the heart of Corrales, New Mexico, its residents will have access to concierge services, a bar/lounge, a cafe, a full services restaurant, over two acres of gardens, walking paths, outdoor and rooftop patios, a salon,  computer lounge, transportation services, a banquet hall for events, and a wide variety of activities including fitness, cooking and art classes.

“As the only retirement community of its kind in the State of New Mexico, The Villas will provide independent living, assisted living, memory care and skilled nursing services with no entry fee required. Anticipated opening: Spring 2013. Reservations are currently being accepted for both phase 1 and phase 2 of the The Villas.”

On the main part of the old Sandia View Academy, elderly residents requiring more intense care would have been housed and treated. Developers proposed a full-service pharmacy there which could also serve other village residents.

With the Planning and Zoning Commission action August 27, 2009, a high-density residential project that would not likely have been permitted in any other part of Corrales was approved on Seventh Day Adventist property because it was a component of a proposed 22-acre senior living complex.

The P&Z Commission  approved a site development plan for the acreage that includes the existing Sandia View Academy facilities and now-vacant land to the south where “independent living”  housing would be developed at a density of approximately eight dwelling units per acre.

The plan presented by developer David Dronet also won a unanimous recommendation that the Village Council grant a zone change to “municipal use” which, according to a Zoning Ordinance amendment that summer, included senior living facilities.

In a clean-sweep victory before P&Z, the developers also got the variance requested to take longer than two years to complete components of the site plan.

The townhouses for “independent living” shown in the site plan were in a second phase. The Zoning Ordinance amendment specified that such senior living facilities would have a restriction that at least 90 percent of the residents had to be aged 62 or older.

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