Negotiations continue for the Village’s possible purchase of the vacant three acres adjacent to Wells Fargo Bank. The land that fronts Corrales Road is a remnant of the tract farmed by the founder of Corrales, Capitán Juan Gonzales Bas, whose descendants own it to this day. Proponents of the acquisition have been persistent for more than five years, first advancing the idea that the land might be used as a botanical garden. Other proposals soon followed, but Village officials were luke-warm to all of them, especially faced with competing needs to be funded.
Despite citizens’ pressure, the Village was reluctant even to order an appraisal to learn what it would cost to buy the land that lies between Corrales Road and the Village’s earlier purchase of 5.5 acres farther west which has been preserved as the Juan Gonzales Bas Heritage Farm. But that reticence softened somewhat after Village Administrator Ron Curry discovered nearly $5 million more than was thought to be in Corrales’ bank accounts. (See Corrales Comment Vol.XXXVIII No. 20 January 11, 2020.)
And, the general obligation bonds voters approved in 2020 allows those funds to be used to acquire land to be preserved as open space. The appraisal was ordered —although the amount was not disclosed publicly— and the Village approached the Gonzales family with an offer, which was still being considered as of April 12.
Village Council discussions about the possible acquisition have been conducted in closed sessions as allowed by state and municipal law. When Corrales Comment asked two councillors for at least a general update on the pending transaction in early April, one of them, Stuart Murray, replied “All I can say for now is that the Village tendered an offer to the family and we are waiting on a response. It was based on a current appraisal and council sweetened the offer to the maximum allowed by law.
“For now, we are in a wait-and-see mode.”
One of the most active and persistent advocates for the purchase, John Thompson, offered a few more details. “I heard that there is one holdout in the Gonzales family on approving the sale.
“Apparently there were multiple appraisals and all below what the family originally wanted. I have no idea what the appraisal value was.
“The Heritage Park Committee provided lots of ideas on how to use the three acres in conjunction with La Entrada Park and the Juan Gonzales Bas Heritage Farm,” Thompson added. “This would create a multi-use open space that would maintain a viewshed from Corrales Road all the way back to the acequia.
“The extra space creates an area for library and park parking, demonstration gardens (native plants, pollinators, curandera) that could be supported by volunteers such as Master Gardeners, as well as an arboretum, vineyard and trails.”
Thompson said he would like to see a comprehensive masterplan for the entire Gonzales tract from Corrales Road to the Corrales Acequia irrigation ditch to the west to include the park and library.
“I know that there is great potential for the Gonzales property to be a great asset for the village.”
Three front acres next to Wells Fargo Bank have been zoned for commercial use since the 1980s; a site plan for an office complex there was presented in 2008 by developer Jack Westman who acquired the parcel from the Gonzales family.
The project never happened, and the land reverted to ownership by the family.
Eventually Thompson and others on his committee, including former Councillor Fred Hashimoto, approached the mayor and Village Council about buying it for a botanical garden, a year-round growers’ market and a food canning facility for local produce.
Speaking for the Corrales Tree Preservation Committee, John Thompson suggested the acreage could be used to grow heritage grapes and fruit trees as part of the botanical garden.
At the May 24, 2016 Village Council meeting, the Tree Committee presented its accomplishments and goals in a 10-minute power point presentation. At that point, the committee had not really zeroed in on the Gonzales frontage.
It envisioned a place for people to gather, hence benches and picnic tables amongst the plantings, land that is already irrigated or that could be, a place convenient to village residents, with parking, showcasing a selection of trees appropriate to Corrales, naturally, even including heirloom fruit trees that once were abundant here.
The plan was to name the arboretum or botanic garden after the late Evelyn Curtis Losack.
When developer Westman had made his proposal for the land in 2008, he gained approval for three office buildings which were to be under construction that fall.
At the May 21, 2008 Planning and Zoning Commission meeting, Westman explained that the entire parcel in question had historic significance for Corrales, noting that the deed goes back to 1712 when it was obtained by Capitán Juan Gonzales Bas.
Westman said a monument to Gonzales and his descendants would be erected in the patio in front of the office building along Corrales Road.
Westman was also key to arranging the deal by which the Village was to acquire the westerly 5.5 acres, adjacent to the acequia, which otherwise would have become a housing development.
Since then, both Westman and Hector Gonzales have died.
When he proposed the purchase agreement for the 5.5 acres farther west at the May 13, 2008 Village Council meeting, Mayor Phil Gasteyer called it “the historic centerpiece for the Village of Corrales.”
When contacted in 2008, Hector Gonzales said he and other family members have wanted for a long time to have the land preserved as open space. “Now it’s coming true,” referring to the Village’s purchase of the 5.5-acre parcel.
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).
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.