By Jeff Radford
If the new time capsule is opened in 2046 or 2047, it will have been 75 years since this village incorporated as a municipality in 1971. Its existence as a community named “Corrales” goes back much, much farther, as well documented by the Corrales Historical Society, and farther back still to the time when it was called “Puraika,” the place of butterflies, by the Native American people in what is now known as Santa Ana Pueblo.
As editor of Corrales Comment newspaper for the past 40 years, I was asked by the Corrales Historical Society to trace developments in Corrales over the past 25 years, since the previous time capsule was sealed commemorating the Village of Corrales’ 25th anniversary of incorporation.
The account below for the period 1997 to 2021 is far from exhaustive or inclusive, but instead highlights some of the milemarkers and accomplishments that came so slowly that residents may have overlooked them, or more likely, failed to realize just how recently some of those came about.
For example, in 1997 Loma Larga was still a deeply rutted, ditch bank road nearly impassable after summer rains. Back then, the future road along the west side of the Main Canal was referred to as “the north-south road.” Officially, the first mile of Loma Larga was paved in 1997: actually the first part of it was paved in trespass on Conservancy District right-of-way by the developer of the Pueblo los Cerros condos. The Conservancy District board seriously considered making the developer tear out all the asphalt.
And back then, the Corrales Post Office was at the corner of Corrales Road and West La Entrada, where it shared a parking lot with Wells Fargo Bank. In January 1997, the current post office existed only on paper, as a site development plan submitted to the Planning and Zoning Commission. The current Corrales fire station had not been built; the Fire Department operated from the building which now houses the Council Chambers and Municipal Court, across Corrales Road from the bank.
The first part of the Jones family’s pasture adjacent to the site of the new post office was purchased for a recreation center in 1995. The last remnant of the Jones tract, between the post office and the TopForm riding arena, was acquired by the Village government in 2016 to relocate the Village Public Works Department and its heavy equipment. For years, the Village’s only Public Works vehicle was then-Public Works employee Tony Tafoya’s personal pick up truck.
High up in the sandhills, on the border between Corrales and Rio Rancho, a solution was implemented for the ill-conceived Dam 1 on the escarpment that was supposed to hold back arroyo flood water from destroying property in Corrales. It was in 1997 that a pipeline was begun to carry water from Dam 1 to the Montoyas Arroyo. Destructive flooding from the escarpment has continued to this day, but the pipeline was a much-needed protective measure.
Corrales’ first Comprehensive Plan in 1973 (referred to as a master plan) stressed the community desire to retain the valley’s farming tradition, but an official program for farmland preservation did not begin until 2004 when villagers overwhelming voted to approve general obligation bonds worth $2.5 million to purchase conservation easements.
At the time, Village government’s bonding capacity was only slightly more than $8 million. The first conservation easement on Corrales farmland came, not through that program, but with a private transaction on land at the south end of the village owned by the son of acclaimed photographer Elliot Porter.
Since those early days of the effort to preserve farmland, approximately 55 acres have been saved from residential development here. The most recent acquisitions were in 2021, using proceeds from the sale of a second round of GO bonds to raise another $2.5 million approved by voters in 2018.
After decades of confusion, political turmoil and technical and bureaucratic delays, the Corrales sewer system went into operation in early 2014. With no fanfare, the controversial liquids-only, pressurized sewer system began sending waste water toward Albuquerque’s sewers around 2:15 p.m. February 3, pumping from the Corrales Recreation center’s septic tanks and those at the Village Office. A trench along East La Entrada to pipe water from the Corrales Library’s septic tank to the sewer line was dug the same day. Later that month, septic tanks for the Municipal Court and Council Chambers, Community Center and Senior Center were hooked up.
The biggest single generator of waste water, Corrales Elementary School, did not connect to the sewer line until 2020. Before that, the school’s sewage was treated at an innovative solar-powered wetlands at the extreme west end of the school property.
In 1996, the Village was successful in gaining designation of Corrales Road (State Highway 448) as a “Scenic and Historic Byway,” but there was little follow-through toward implementing a corridor management plan. By 2015, probably most Corrales residents were not even aware of the designation nor how to benefit from it. In around 2020, attempts were under way through Corrales MainStreet, Inc. to have an “Corrales Arts and Cultural District” designated. That had not been accomplished as of April 2022.
In 1998-99, Corrales Elementary School underwent a 30,000 square foot expansion that added more than a dozen new classrooms, library, offices and other features, which shifted its orientation to a Target Road entrance. The original school, oriented toward Corrales Road, had been part of the Town of Bernalillo’s school system, and was called Sandoval Elementary.
The Corrales Library underwent three significant expansions during its third and fourth decades in the current location. The first added office space in 2001, followed by a Teens’ Room in 2006, and in 2014, a “quiet reading room” was built next to it, along the east side of the “Library That The People Built.”
A regional shopping mall, equal in size to the state’s largest, opened on vacant land south of Corrales on the Black family’s Seven Bar Ranch where a private airport had operated. The shops inside Cottonwood Mall were nearly all national retailers, but still Corrales shopkeepers worried that the new shopping mecca would cause their own businesses to shrivel.
That didn’t happen; shops such as Ambiente, Just For Looks and Frontier Mart churned right along and more small businesses continued to open here (although not all survived). Then in summer 2021, the owner of Cottonwood Mall filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy followed by foreclosures in February 2022.
As incredible as it seems now, Cottonwood Mall was first planned for the then-empty land just south of Cabezon Road, where the apartment complexes are now.
A high-density residential project that would not likely have been permitted in any other part of Corrales was approved in 2009 on Seventh Day Adventist property because it was presented as a component of a proposed 22-acre senior living complex. The Corrales Planning and Zoning Commission approved a site development plan for the acreage that included the Sandia View Academy facilities and vacant land to the south where “independent living” housing was to be developed at a density of approximately eight dwelling units per acre. The project collapsed when the developer could not finalize financing. But the old Academy school building was demolished in around 2015.
A much smaller senior living project within the village’s commercial district slowly gained support in 2018 at the corner of Corrales Road and Dixon Road, but had not been formally approved by 2022.
But a dramatically larger and far more dense housing development at the south end of Corrales on the Black family’s bottomland pasture was thwarted when the Village prevailed in district court to block a 20-acre subdivision that would have created more than eight dwellings per acre. At that time the land had recently been annexed into Corrales’ jurisdiction by the N.M. Boundary Commission; it is now developed on one-acre homesites.
Corrales’ current Comprehensive Plan, adopted in 2009, still emphasizes preservation of rural lifestyles and farming. In 2022, Village officials increasingly spoke of revising and updating the Comprehensive Plan. At least two perennially divisive issues will almost certainly be addressed: whether Village government should allow housing developments with greater residential density and/or more commercial and light industrial uses… unless avoidance of those controversies precludes an update of the 2009 Comprehensive Plan. Villagers apparently maintained their resolve to preserve Corrales’ agricultural heritage.
The village’s population still had not reached 10,000 in 2020, as recorded in the U.S. Census that year.
Over the 40 years that Corrales Comment has been published, the community newspaper has maintained tight focus on local affairs; any future researcher will find its news coverage indispensable to learning what happened, and why, in this quixotic town from 1982 to 2022. Yet a Comment hallmark has been reporting that connected world affairs to local concerns, especially the threat of climate change.
I covered the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro for the Comment, and published a special edition explaining its relevance for Corrales. Similarly, Corrales Comment was the only New Mexico news medium to report from Paris about the crucial 2015 United Nations conference on climate change, and again from Glasgow in 2021.
An archive of past issues is being maintained by the Corrales Library, and online at the newspaper’s website, http://www.corralescomment.com.