The long-delayed AT&T cell tower at the west end of Academy Drive has been erected. The tall, thick, white tower went up in late March, but lacked antenna installations as of April 2. But it was still a shock to villagers whose homes face east toward the Sandia Mountains. The tower is next to the old Academy Furniture Store at the rear of the Sandia View Academy property, and is most visible from the entrance to the Camino de la Tierra Subdivision. Residents’ calls to the Corrales Planning and Zoning Office began almost immediately, protesting the obvious violation of the Village’s height restrictions. But most were probably unaware that Village officials fought that battle and lost in federal court.
In 2019, Village officials acquiesced to AT&T Mobility’s demand that it be allowed to erect a 65-foot cell phone tower at the west end of Academy Drive, near Loma Larga. The Village’s decision to refrain from blocking the telecommunications tower came after its law firm advised in an August 9 memo that no obstacles be placed on AT&T’s intent to move ahead with construction.
The U.S. Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals denied the Village of Corrales’ appeal after lower courts earlier had ruled in AT&T’s favor. As attorney William Zarr of the Robles, Rael, Anaya law firm wrote, “The Village is required to immediately approve whatever permits AT&T may require to construct the wireless cell tower. “This presumes that AT&T intends to follow the same site development plan, engineering drawings, etc. that it presented to Planning and Zoning and/or to the district court as evidence. AT&T would still be required to obtain a building permit and follow applicable building codes.”
The U.S. Court of Appeal’s decision held that, “on the basis of uncontested facts properly before it, AT&T has demonstrated that the Village effective[ly] prohibited it from providing wireless service, in violation of the Telecommunications Act.” The Village had insisted its ruling against the proposed cell tower at the site adjacent to the old Sandia View Academy was not arbitrary and capricious, as AT&F asserted, and that the denial was consistent with precedent and policies.
The Village Council also argued that AT&T failed to show that the proposed facility would fill a significant gap in coverage, or that the desired improvements could not be achieved by placing the facility on higher terrain or using a shorter tower. According to the court filings, “The council also determined that the proposed facility would be visually intrusive, negatively affect the value of nearby residential property and impair the village’s rural residential, agricultural and open space qualities.”
Even so, the Village’s lawyers had warned that the 1996 Federal Telecommunications Act is weighted heavily in favor of telecommunications companies seeking to provide better and better coverage. A big obstacle here was that the Village had permitted other cell towers of the same height, including on its own municipal property… one of which was for AT&T.
And the Village conceded that the Academy Drive property in question had been used for commercial purposes for more than 30 years, but that other proposals for cell towers in that area have been denied repeatedly over the years. Perhaps key to the Village’s defense was the response, “Plaintiff’s claims are barred because the Village’s zoning regulations do not prohibit or have the effect of prohibiting the provision of personal wireless serves, as evidenced by the fact that Plaintiff presently leases a site on Village-owned property for the provision of personal wireless services in the Village.”
That refers to the cell tower between the Village Office and the Corrales Senior Center along East La Entrada. In an initial legal response, then-Village Attorney John Appel contended, “there is substantial evidence in the record to support the decision of the Village’s Planning and Zoning Commission and, on appeal, the decision of the Village Council… denying the application for a telecommunications facility on the specific site proposed by the Plaintiff.”
He further explained, the Village’s decision “is not arbitrary or capricious, but rather is consistent with long-standing Village policy and regulations that generally permit telecommunications facilities in areas primarily devoted to commercial and governmental activities, while not generally permitting them in dominantly residential and agricultural areas.”
And, he contended, AT&T had not shown that a cell tower that complied with the Village’s regulations, including the 26-foot height limit, would not be fully adequate for AT&T’s needs. The 1996 act adopted by Congress has also figured in prior rulings in Corrales that rejected cell towers. But until the AT&T project at the end of Academy Drive, other rejected applicants had not filed a lawsuit in federal court to overturn the Village’s negative ruling.
Plans for a cell phone tower on the old Academy Furniture property were first rejected by the Corrales Planning and Zoning Commission in April 2013. AT&T appealed that rejection to the Village Council which upheld the P&Z ruling. From there, it was off to courtrooms. (See Corrales Comment Vol.XXXII, No.7, May 25, 2013 “Sandia View Cell Tower Appeal.”)
As requested by Ron Turner, then-owner of the property within the Sandia View Academy complex, the communications receiver-transmitter for AT&T Mobility was to be taller than the Village’s land use ordinances allow. The request for a special use permit or waiver was denied. Erection of cell towers or radio towers in Corrales always has been controversial. Corrales’ land use ordinance imposes a 26-foot limit on anything constructed, so any proposal for a communications tower would need approval of a variance. Two previous plans for towers on the former Seventh Day Adventists’ property along Academy Drive were rejected amid nearby residents’ objections.
In recent years, the only towers taller than 26 feet which have been approved are those that include transmitters and receivers for Village emergency dispatch. Those are at the Village Office Complex just east of the Corrales Road intersection with East La Entrada, at the Main Fire Station farther north on Corrales Road and at the top of Angel Road. Back in September 2007, Corrales’ planning and zoning administrator warned that the density of cell phone towers would likely double in the near future, so the Village Council tightened up its regulations.
At a work-study session with the council and Planning and Zoning Commission September 26, 2007, then-P&Z Administrator Cynthia Tidwell said the proliferation of wireless phones and internet gadgets would likely force wireless telecommunications firms to get more aggressive about erecting towers here. “With all the new technology that allows you to get television and internet on phones and devices like your Blackberry, this is going to drive a doubling of the proliferation of towers that we see today because of their need for more capacity,” Tidwell advised. “They have to have more towers to be able to handle the traffic. What they have today will not handle the capacity that will be required by all these gadgets.”
Her warnings gave a sense of urgency to the council’s deliberations on a draft ordinance that the P&Z board had worked on over the previous year. As explained at the 2007 work-study session, the proposed law still would have restricted such a cell tower to just 26 feet in height, the standard limit on any structure in Corrales. Most of the discussion focused on where such towers might be permissible, skirting the question whether the telecommunications firms could legally challenge the 26-foot height restriction.
The 2007 recommendation from the P&Z commission was that future cell towers be restricted to Corrales’ commercial districts. Those areas are carefully defined in Village ordinances: 1) along Corrales Road between Meadowlark Lane and Old Church Road; 2) the “neighborhood commercial, office district” in the Far Northwest Sector adjacent to the Rio Rancho Industrial Park; and, most relevant in this case, 3) the commercially zoned parcels adjacent to the Seventh Day Adventists’ Sandia View Academy.
The commissioner who had done the most work on the proposed ordinance in 2007, former P&Z Chairman Stuart Murray (who now serves on the Village Council), explained why he did not want the proposed ordinance to allow cell towers on parcels of land zoned for municipal uses. He acknowledged that the two cell towers that then existed in Corrales were on M-zoned land (one at the Village Office complex between the Village Office and the Corrales Senior Center and the other in front of the main fire station).
But, Murray cautioned, the Village owns land all over the community, usually small remnants of subdivisions that might be about the right size for a cell tower and related structure. The existence of such municipally-owned parcels is largely unknown to the public, little more than an obscure reference on long-forgotten land plats.
The relevance of such “hidden” remnants became clear as Village officials moved ahead with plans to erect water towers on Village-owned land in the Far Northwest Sector next to the new fire substation and along Loma Larga south of Camino Arco Iris. In explaining why his draft of a new ordinance did not allow cell towers on M-zoned land, Murray said, “I didn’t want towers all over the village, and we have municipally-owned land all over the village.”
In Corrales, variance procedures for antennas and towers are basically the same as for other uses; it’s hard to get a variance. Under the section “Conditions for variance,” the ordinance says, “The Planning and Zoning Commission may deny any request for a variance that is based on conditions which are the result of the action of the applicant. Where the Planning and Zoning Commission finds that the strict application of the requirements of this article would result in a practical difficulty or unnecessary hardship that would deprive the owner of the reasonable use of the land or building, a variance may be granted provided that:
“• the variation of this article will not be contrary to the public interest;
“• the variation will not adversely affect adjacent property owners or residents;
“• the conditions are unique to the property; and
“• the variance is authorized only for lot controls and not for use of the premises.”
Those long-standing conditions for getting a variance have thwarted many applicants in the past.
The long fought-for legislation to make New Mexico the next U.S. state to legalize adult-use cannabis and comprehensively address past low-level convictions, has passed, after a special session called by Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham March 30. The 55th New Mexico 60 day legislative session ended official business on March 20. As of April 4, Grisham had not yet signed the bill, but by April 9 she likely will have done so.
In a press release issued March 31 the governor stated that “This is a significant victory for New Mexico. Workers will benefit from the opportunity to build careers in this new economy. Entrepreneurs will benefit from the opportunity to create lucrative new enterprises. The state and local governments will benefit from the additional revenue.
“Consumers will benefit from the standardization and regulation that comes with a bona fide industry. And those who have been harmed by this country’s failed war on drugs, disproportionately communities of color, will benefit from our state’s smart, fair and equitable new approach to past low-level convictions.”
Legal sales of recreational cannabis in New Mexico will not begin until April 2022. The governor stressed that “we are signaling more clearly than ever before that we are ready, as a state, to truly break new ground, to think differently about ourselves and our economic future, to fearlessly invest in ourselves and in the limitless potential of New Mexicans.”
Eighteen other bills from the NM House and Senate which have been signed by Lujan Grisham include a prohibition on sales of miniature bottles of booze, a loosening of restrictions on delivery of alcohol to the home, and the lifting of bans on liquor sales on Sunday mornings. Another alcohol-related bill amends the Liquor Control Act to waive the next annual fee for renewed liquor licenses and for all new licenses issued in 2021 by the Regulation and Licensing Department.
A Senate bill that grants a personal income tax rebate of $600 to families and individuals claiming the Working Families Tax Credit (individuals who earn $31,200 or less; and heads of household, surviving spouses or those married filing jointly who earn up to $39,000) was signed by the governor. The bill “provides for a four-month gross receipts tax holiday for food and beverage establishments, including restaurants, bars, food trucks, small breweries, wineries and craft distilleries, which have been financially impacted by the pandemic.”
Another Senate bill signed into law "repeals the provisions in statute, Sections 30-5-1 through 30-5-3 NMSA 1978, which make abortion illegal in New Mexico and punish providing abortion services with a felony conviction except in the circumstances of rape or threat to the pregnant person’s life, provisions that have been considered inoperable following the 1973 US Supreme Court decision in Roe v Wade.”
House Bill 57, the Prescribed Burning Act, “expands the safe use of prescribed fire on private lands as part of a statewide strategy to reduce the frequency and severity of catastrophic wildfire and restore the ecological function of forests and watersheds; establishes various accompanying statutes regarding liability, training and certification.”
Those particularly affected by the pandemic economically will applaud the signing of Senate Bill 52, Extended Unemployment Benefits, which “adjusts the state unemployment benefit statute to accommodate changes to federal requirements generated as a result of pandemic-related unemployment programs; repeals statute provisions that restrict the state in triggering additional weeks of extended benefits in periods of high unemployment.”
Similarly, House Bill 11 “GRT and Permanent Funds for LEDA Projects” expands the Local Economic Development Act (LEDA) and makes “a $200 million one-time appropriation from the general fund to the renamed “local economic development recovery act fund” (the “LEDA fund,” previously the “local and regional economic development support fund”) for pandemic relief grants to businesses, to be administered by the Economic Development Department (EDD) and the New Mexico Finance Authority (NMFA).”
Senate Bill 40 and House Bill 2, aimed at extending the school year, while also providing increased funding for both schools and teachers, had not yet been signed by Lujan Grisham at press time.
The governor vetoed one piece of legislation, House Bill 92, which would have increased the fee amount charged on public water supply systems. She wrote: “This bill creates a tax on water that is too onerous on New Mexicans as we strive to recover from the pandemic.” For more on signed legislation, see http://www.governor.state.nm.us/about-the-governor/signed-legislation/ To explore the results of the legislative session in depth, visit http://www.nmlegis.gov/fund.
Implications of lawmakers’ work during the past 60-day session of the N.M. Legislature and the quickly reconvened special session on marijuana won’t be known for months, or even years in some cases. But here is a quick rundown on some of the other more significant bills with relevance for Corrales that made it to the governor’s desk to sign. Some have implications for local jobs and water resources, such as legalization of recreational cannabis, and others will be significant for public health and education.
• Paid sick leave is now guaranteed for New Mexicans in the work force.
• The Health Security for New Mexicans bill made it through both chambers and allocates $575,000 design an innovative health care program to benefit all New Mexicans.
• The Fairness for N.M. Patients Act passed, with the prospect of providing more justice to patients affected by medical malpractice. It also removes corporate hospitals from a fund meant to help local doctors and patients.
• With the passage of the Permanent Fund for Early Childhood Education, a ballot question will be placed in front of voters in November 2022. It will ask whether 1 percent of funds from the Land Grant Permanent Fund should be invested for affordable early learning programs and living wages for childcare workers.
• The Community Solar Act was adopted to encourage rules that allow for the development of community solar facilities and provides the option of accessing solar energy produced by a community solar facility benefitting subscribers.
• The N.M. Civil Rights Act passed which ends the use of qualified immunity as a defense and allows people to hold state bodies accountable through the N.M. courts for violations of their civil rights.
• The Crown Act passed which protects race-based hairstyles from discriminatory policies in the workplace and in public schools.
• Local Government Air Quality Regulations passed, giving state officials authority to set stronger pollution standards to protect our air, water and land.
• A Sustainable Economy Task Force bill passed to spearhead economic diversification, giving New Mexicans in our most impacted communities a voice in the creation of a clean energy economy.
A crucial discussion on whether Village government should take ownership and management of Corrales Road is expected April 20. The old farm-to-market road became what is now State Highway 448 largely by prescriptive easement and was paved in 1946. (See Corrales Comment Vol.XXXVI No.3 April 8, 2017 “After 71 Years, Time to Re-Build Corrales Road.”)
Officials from the N.M. Department of Transportation (NMDOT) are scheduled to make a presentation to the mayor and Village Council at their April 20 session. Village Administrator Ron Curry reported at the council’s March 23 meeting that the perennial topic of Corrales taking over Corrales Road came up at a regular meeting with NMDOT in mid-March. “So now we have asked the State of New Mexico to make a presentation to the council on April 20. “We recognize that this is a high-profile discussion item and that people have a lot of opinions about it —some are old and some are new— and we expect all of those to come out.
“NMDOT has kind of reached a point where they have reached a window in which they need to plan for it to take place,” Curry continued. He emphasized the importance of giving Corrales officials, and especially Corrales businesses, ample advance notice about any changes that might require closing Corrales Road. As part of discussions about the future status of Highway 448 in recent years, it has been understood that NMDOT would have to re-pave, if not substantially rebuild, Corrales Road before the Village would agree to take over responsibility for it. Such a project would have to be incorporated into a future NMDOT budget, which seems to have been Curry’s basis for saying the department has a current window for making a decision.
“If this process begins to move forward, in December of this year, or December of next year, we want to know the exact time line for the disruption, because we want to be as conscious of our businesses along Corrales Road which are already struggling due to COVID.” The Village Administrator said another topic NMDOT “has alluded to is that they need to encumber the money. If they’re got x-dollars to do this —and they’ll have to color that in for us at the meeting— we want to know what those dollars are and the timelines associated with using it.”
Over more than a decade, NMDOT has urged the Village to take responsibility for Corrales Road on the grounds that it doesn’t really fit within the state highway system any longer. Each time the matter has come up, Village officials have resisted for a variety of reasons. One of those is the high cost of maintaining the road. So in preliminary talks, Village officials have insisted that NMDOT would have to transfer ownership only after the road has been throughly updated and improved. (See Corrales Comment Vol.XXXIX No.17 November 21, 2020 “Finally Time Now To Take Over Corrales Road?”)
Curry said last fall he expected to move ahead on talks with NMDOT on that possibility “sometime within the next 90 days, depending on what their schedule will allow, where they come in and talk about all the details and ramifications involved in us taking over Corrales Road.” As in most previous municipal elections here, candidates were asked to explain their position on the Village taking over Corrales Road. In nearly every case, they expressed reservation about possible maintenance costs and liability.
Elected to the council in March 2020, Zach Burkett said he was open to the prospect of Village government taking over Corrales Road, “but my biggest concern is maintenance on the road.” On the other hand, he noted that Loma Larga and other municipal roads receive funding from the state highway department. Then-candidate Stu Murray, also elected in March, said he thought it would be a bad idea to take ownership of Corrales Road. “It will take millions of dollars just to re-pave it as it is now.”
For years, the prospect was clouded by NMDOT’s uncertainty over what it actually owned along Corrales Road. For decades, highway officials had said the department generally did not claim any right-of-way in Corrales beyond the edge of the pavement. That might have been true for much of the distance, since it was basically a common-use farm-to-market road which at some point the highway department agreed to pave and maintain —without formally acquiring right-of-way.
Finally about ten years ago, NMDOT contracted for a definitive property line survey along the entire length of Corrales Road and concluded that it did, indeed, own varying widths of road shoulder along most of it.
Revised guidelines for managing the Corrales Bosque Preserve were approved by the Village Council at its March 23 session. As explained by Corrales Bosque Advisory Commission Chair Joan Hashimoto, the guidance marks the first official recognition that since the preserve’s cottonwood trees are dying out, replacement species should be encouraged. “The question facing us is do we want another species of tree in the bosque,” she explained after a councillor asked whether it would be possible or prudent to replant cottonwoods as they die out.
“That is the issue everyone is grappling with right now,” she replied. Hashimoto was responding to questions following her power point presentation on revisions to policies for managing the preserve. She said Santa Ana Pueblo is exploring alternatives to maintain a forest canopy along the middle Rio Grande, including experiments with boxelder maples. “We should probably go and take a look at how they’re doing. And The Nature Conservancy has come out with a list of trees that they think will do well for the next 100 years, and we should take a look at those.”
Hashimoto told the mayor and council that a die-off of the cottonwoods can be expected over the next ten years. As has been explained in Corrales Comment often during the past 20 years, the cottonwoods’ desperate situation is due to erosion of the riverbed, which means the ever-deepening channel carries more water, precluding the over-bank flooding necessary for cottonwood seeds to germinate on the bosque floor. (See Corrales Comment Vol. XXXVIII No.12 September 7, 2018 “Rio Grande’s High Flows Bring Hope For Cottonwoods.”)
“There is no consensus as to what kind of tall canopy tree would do well here in the next 100 years.” Councillor Zach Burkett asked Hashimoto how many years it might take for the preserve’s cottonwoods to recover. She replied: “We would need a lot of bank-lowering to achieve that. If you go to the river’s edge and look down at the river bed, let’s say at the siphon or at Dixon Road… usually you can see that there is no way the trees’ roots can be down in the water. So we would have to have lots more Army Corps of Engineers projects to remove tons of dirt at the river’s edge for us to have good cottonwood growth.”
She referred to the technique used by the Corps in 2012 to lower the bank so that available river water could flow onto the floor of the bosque where cottonwood seeds could regenerate. But even if the soil is sufficiently moist, for long enough duration, for seedlings to sprout, the future trees might still be unable to thrive since their roots likely would not reach ground water reliably.
The chronic lack of over-bank flooding into the preserve has been blamed on unintended consequences of dams built on tributaries to the Rio Grande, especially Cochiti Dam, which have dramatically reduced silt flowing into the river; the relatively clean water flowing past Corrales has picked up tons of sediment from the river bed, incising a channel.
The following topics are covered in the new guidelines: the long-established mission of the preserve; animal and plant life; environment and pollution; the Corrales Fire and Police Departments; recreation; research and education; and interagency cooperation.
Guidelines for recreation include:
• Manage as a natural area for passive, non-motorized and non-consumptive slow-speed recreational activities including walking, running, horse riding, bicycling, photography and bird-watching;
• Prohibit infrastructure development contrary to natural and protected conditions, including paving or resurfacing of roads and trails;
• Discourage creation of new trails through the forest and down levee road slopes.
Under the topic Environment and Pollution, the bullet points are:
• Reduce non-point source pollution by encouraging pet waste pick up;
• Minimize use of pesticides and herbicides;
• Prefer mechanical treatment of invasive plant species over chemical treatments;
• Prioritize bank-lowering and backwater creation projects and maintain current backwater channel functionality.
Under the topic Animal and Plant Life, the guidelines read:
• Protect and promote a variety of habitats, including a mix of tree and shrub heights and species, grass meadows, younger willow stands, and a mix of water channel types in order to maintain a biologically diverse ecosystem of wildlife populations and plant communities;
• Mitigate detrimental effects of invasive plants by removal when appropriate;
• Consider introduction of canopy tree species adapted to changing climatic and hydrologic conditions;
• Maximize use of native plants over non-natives for any projects.
The guidelines call for the fire department to “conduct fire risk mitigation efforts such as shaded fuelbreak maintenance and targeted removal of invasive species and dead-and-down vegetation without compromising other preserve management principles and guidelines.”
No moratorium on constructing view-blocking walls and fences along Corrales Road will be imposed, but a beefed-up ordinance is likely to be enacted in the weeks ahead. Discussion March 23 about possible restrictions to protect views along Corrales’ designated “scenic and historic byway” quickly veered away from the idea that a moratorium is necessary since the community does not find itself in an emergency that would require that measure.
Instead the mayor and councillors directed the Corrales Planning and Zoning Commission to submit recommendations for an ordinance that would limit the height and opaqueness of new walls or fences along Corrales Road. They suggested new regulations might mirror those for the North Valley’s Rio Grande Boulevard imposed by the Village of Los Ranchos.
Councillor Zach Burkett led discussion at the March 23 council meeting. No target date was indicated for the P&Z commission to make recommendations. The current push to protect scenic views began shortly after erection of tall cinder block walls fronting Corrales Road at the south end of the valley. Councillor Burkett said he regretted that such walls had been permitted and asked that the council consider what might be done to prevent the same from happening all along the road.
A former chairman of the P&Z commission, architect Terry Brown, had tried to persuade the Village Council to pass such an ordinance 10 years ago, but councillors balked and the initiative died. The biggest stumbling block was that the 2011 draft ordinance seemed to apply to other roadways throughout Corrales and at intersections where walls would block visibility. The council sent the draft back to P&Z for more work, but a revision was never submitted. (See Corrales Comment Vol.XXXX No.2, March 6, 2021 “Council Revives Interest in Corrales Road Scenic Quality.”)
The Village of Los Ranchos regulations on walls along Rio Grande Boulevard were discussed briefly at two recent council meetings. Those regulations were explained as follows by Corrales Planning and Zoning Administrator Laurie Stout. “Los Ranchos uses the idea of low and open walls/fences. They restrict height of all fences to six feet. Solid walls within the front setback can only be four feet with an option to add additional open fencing on top of that to a maximum of six feet total. No solid wall or fence shall be located within the clear sight triangle of a driveway and a public or private right-of-way.”
At the March 23 council meeting, all members of the governing body supported the goal of protecting scenic quality along Corrales Road, possibly with a new ordinance modeled after that used for Rio Grande Boulevard. Councillor Kevin Lucero made the point that any decisions on this issue will have implications for the quality of life in Corrales for decades. “The decisions we make in the coming months will determine what Corrales looks like over the next ten, 20, 25 years. What we want Corrales to look like for future generations.” But those decisions will need to balance landowners privacy rights with protecting scenic quality, he noted.
Burkett tried to head off the controversy that scuttled the 2011 draft law by saying he did not expect any regulation that would apply to roads except Corrales Road and possibly the historic zone near the Old Church and San Ysidro Museum. To try to include other neighborhoods would be opening a can of worms, he cautioned. Councillor Stu Murray asked whether Burkett thought scenic views from Loma Larga ought to be addressed as well.Burkett suggested that might complicate finding a solution.
“I don’t see that views along Loma Larga are that much of an issue,”Burkett responded. “But more importantly, that would open up a can of worms” since Corrales Road is a scenic byway, a specific area, which is also true for the designated historic district. Beyond those, he said, the Village would likely have a difficult time defending why some other roadways would be protected and not others. “That would make this conversation a lot harder.”
Councillor Tyson Parker concurred. If regulations for Loma Larga were imposed, what would be the rationale for deciding not to protect views on other roads. “What about one block from that area? What about two blocks from that area? It gets to be more of a can of worms.”
Councillor Mel Knight also advised against such regulations for Loma Larga, not because the drive lacks scenic quality but because the relative elevation of Loma Larga allows vistas to the east to see open spaces over any existing walls. “Even though there are some walls that have already been built, you can still kind of see over them, because the elevation of Loma Larga is higher than the east side of that road. So I agree that Corrales Road and the historic district are the prime areas that we need to look at as far as restricting walls.”
Planning and Zoning Administrator Laurie Stout was asked to evaluate the Los Ranchos ordinance to protect scenery along Rio Grande Boulevard and whether it achieves a balance for landowners’ privacy. “What the Los Ranchos ordinance does is that it allows a modicum of privacy since you’ve got your walls to a certain extent but with an open pattern at the top. And they also have setbacks that we can look at for a front fence. That would be another option.
“It allows people to keep their animals in and keep other animals out, as the case may be. As you drive down Rio Grande Boulevard, it is a delightful experience. You can see the farmland, the large lots, the architecture. Corrales Road is a scenic byway, so looking at an ordinance would certainly be appropriate to balance the rights of the property owner with the overall feel that we want to keep here in Corrales.”
As discussion wound down, Mayor Jo Anne Roake summarized. “At this point I can see things coalescing around focusing on a couple of areas in town, such as the scenic byway and the historic area to start with and maybe creating an ordinance that has Los Ranchos as a model to keep kind of a balance” between scenic quality and landowners’ privacy. Burkett said March 1 he is researching what might be done to revive the status of Corrales Road as a designated scenic byway and what might be done to bolster that status. Former Corrales Planing and Zoning Commission Chairman Terry Brown has made that a high priority since at least 2010.
In a power point presentation to the Corrales Planning and Zoning Commission on April 12, 2011, Brown demonstrated what has been lost by view-blocking walls along Corrales Road and what has been preserved by see-through fences and low walls. But for other Corraleños, the idea that Village officials might tell them what kind of fence is permissible reeks of governmental over-reach and offends libertarian values.
At the December 8, 2020 Village Council meeting, Councillor Burkett said he would like to see incentives by Village government to encourage other styles of walls or fences that do not inhibit views. He said he wanted the council to address the issue after seeing such tall, solid walls erected by builder Steve Nakamura on two properties at the south end of Corrales over the past year.
Similar long walls have gone up adjacent to Corrales Road at the north end in recent years, creating what Brown has referred to as a “canyon” effect that destroy the scenic quality for which Corrales has been known for many years. When Brown heard of Burkett’s interest, he said he looked forward to collaborating on a proposal to address the worsening situation. “When I was chair of the Corrales Planning and Zoning Commission, the last issue I tried to get a reluctant council to approve was a recommendation for a requirement for a partially open wall ordinance along Corrales Road. “The new CMU walls being built by Mr. Nakamura at the south end of Corrales are the antithesis of what Corrales needs,” Brown added.
“Look at the fencing along Rio Grande. This is what I envision for our village, and what is desperately needed to protect the views along the Corrales ‘scenic byway.’” Views along Corrales Road of pastures, horses, farms, orchards, vineyards and old tractors are central to this community’s character and perhaps even its economic vitality. A degree of national recognition for those attributes was gained in 1995 when Corrales Road was designated a “scenic and historic byway.” But a Village-appointed byways corridor management committee disbanded amid controversy more than a decade ago and was never fully reconstituted.
Brown, an architect, is concerned that the community’s treasured scenic quality is being incrementally lost due to an unfortunate landscaping feature: view-blocking solid walls or fences at the edge of the road. “I was on the Planning and Zoning Commission for eight years, and I was the chair for two years. As an architect, I felt strongly that we needed to protect this view, this view shed from Corrales Road,” Brown explained. “People come here to see Corrales… they don’t come here to look at walls and fences. They come here to see horses and donkeys and llamas and cows, and the views that stretch from the fields to the riparian habitat and all the way to the Sandias.
“They don’t want to see walls; they don’t want to see that ‘canyon effect.’” Back in 2010-11, Brown and others pushed hard for the Village Council to adopt an ordinance or regulation that would prohibit owners of property abutting Corrales Road from erecting a solid fence or wall taller than three feet at the road frontage property line. Draft Ordinance 11-007, amending the Village’s land use regulations regarding fences, was tabled at a February 2011 council meeting and never revived for vote. No other proposals have been pursued, and tall cinder block walls and wooden fences continue to go up, blocking views.
Corrales is left vulnerable, Brown cautioned. “In some places we have a tall wall along one side of Corrales Road, but it’s left open on the other side. I guess that’s probably acceptable,” he volunteered. “But what if a developer or homeowner says ‘Hey, I need to have more opacity on my side of the road, too.’ And then, the next guy says the same thing, and pretty soon, a hundred years from now, Corrales Road will be just one long canyon.”
On the other side of the river, regulations for Rio Grande Boulevard have apparently closed off that undesired future. “I believe along Rio Grande Boulevard you can only have a limited expanse of opaque wall and the rest of it has to be open. The walls are low; for the most part, you can see over them or through them. “Since Corrales Road is a scenic byway, I think it is worthy of getting the same treatment.”
Without any regulation requiring scenic views be maintained, Brown warned, “you get whatever a developer is going to give you.” In laying out the 2011 rationale for recommended action by the Village Council, then-P&Z commission Chairman Brown put it this way: “One of Corrales’ greatest assets that maintain the rural character of this village is the vistas of vineyards, agricultural fields, large animals, towering cottonwoods and the Sandia Mountains beyond. With this in mind, the P&Z commission recommends the modification noted above for fences along Corrales Road. Our concern is that without this proposed modification to our ordinance, Corrales Road could become a walled-in road where nothing could be seen beyond the six-foot high walls along both sides of Corrales Road. We already have portions of Corrales Road with this unappealing aspect.” (See Corrales Comment Vol.XXXVIII No.3 March 23, 2019 “Can Scenery Along ‘Scenic Byway’ Be Preserved?”)
During early discussion about regulating the size and opacity of walls along property lines, the proposed rules would have applied to roadsides throughout Corrales. But P&Z commissioners and council members backed away from that, anticipating villagers’ resistance for reasons of privacy. That continues to be a primary concern, although the thwarted 2011 ordinance exempted existing walls and fences; the rules would have applied only to new walls or fences. Even so, the draft ordinance that went to the Village Council back then would have applied only to property along Corrales Road, not residential neighborhoods east or west of it.
While privacy issues seem to have been dominant during the P&Z and council discussions about protecting scenic quality nine years ago, it’s clear that visitors to Corrales have no interest in knowing who’s rolling in the hay with whom. A secondary concern was road noise from increased traffic along Corrales Road. Proximity to the road is the critical factor in how disturbing tire-on-asphalt noise would be to residents. But if the residence is that close to Corrales Road, or any neighborhood road, the structure itself would likely obstruct a view of fields, farm animals or the mountains.
Brown said he is not aware of any road noise mitigation measures that might be used that still allow scenic views. He said a tall wall, fence or dense vegetation may be the only way to effectively block road noise if the residence is very close. In Brown’s February 25, 2011, letter of transmittal from the P&Z commission to the council, he pointed out “This revised proposed ordinance recommends modifications to the previous proposed ordinance by requiring all new fences along Corrales Road (Scenic Byway) to have no solid fence exceeding three feet in height erected on the front lot line or within the front setback area of any lot or within the vision clearance area abutting a driveway.
“If someone wants a fence taller than three feet, then that portion of the fence would have to be an open fence.” The wall or fence could actually be taller than three feet, but the upper portion would have to be open or see-through to some degree, he added. Serving as Planning and Zoning Commission vice-chair at that time was Corrales’ current mayor, Jo Anne Roake.
“The Village Council did not like the idea at that time,” Brown recalled. “They didn’t like the idea of dictating to a homeowner what type of fence they could have. However, we already have ordinances that cover what type of fence you can have and what it looks like; what is acceptable and what is not.”
“It’s like anything else in the village; it should be the villagers who decide what’s in the best interest of the village. We want to encourage tourism, but if, when they come, we have a canyon of walls on both sides of Corrales Road, that’s not going to be very attractive.”
Apart from any possible future conservation easement, a project is under way to continue farming the scenic Trosello tract. About 12 acres beloved for views offered to the Corrales bosque and Sandia Mountains beyond, and four acres on the west side of Corrales Road, where the Wagners’ corn maze has been located, would remain in agriculture, Village Councillor Bill Woldman said at the March 23 council meeting.
That outcome is being pursued with a lease agreement between owners of the acreage, Trosello family heirs, and the Albuquerque-based One Generation Fund, in association with the Native American Community Academy (NACA). Students have already begun planting two acres in vegetables, while most of the rest will be planted in oats and alfalfa. “A couple of weeks ago, I went out and met with Alan Brauer with the Native American Community Academy. They have entered into a lease agreement on the Trosello fields …the lease is not going to be through the farmland preservation program,” Woldman explained.
“They brought a number of students from NACA, mainly Navajos, to the fields to take a look at it. I liked the presentation from Alan for what they propose to do there. It would be about 16 acres, 12 on the east side and four on the west side.
“I think it’s going to be an absolutely terrific project once they get going.” He said the lease covers the entire tract along the east side of Corrales Road. “There will be no condos or skyscrapers or other developments there at least for as long as the lease runs,” he suggested. Woldman said he wants to add a presentation on the project to a future council meeting agenda. Subsequently, the date for that presentation was set for April 13.
Possible use of the Trosello tract by NACA was under discussion at least five months ago. Hopes resumed after three members of the Village Council voted against the proposed conservation easement for the12-acre Haslam farm last July. One of the three dissenting councillors, Bill Woldman, told Corrales Comment last October that he had met with the Farmland Preservation and Agricultural Commission’s co-chair, Lisa Brown, to discuss that opposition and learn why the effort to save the Trosello tract had fizzled. “She reached out to me about why I hadn’t voted for the Haslam easement, and so we had a walking tour of that farm. In the course of that, we discussed the possibility of some kind of joint operation of the Trosello fields.”
“When voters were asked to approve general obligation bonds for farmland preservation, it was the Trosello tract that people were excited about,” Woldman recalled. “The Trosello field was the number one target for use of those funds, and about 80 percent of Corrales voters were in favor of that bond proposal. I wanted to know why nothing was happening with that.”
When Corrales Comment raised the same question to the Village’s negotiator, Michael Sisco of Unique Places LLC last year, he said that the owner of the Trosello tract had lost interest in participating in the Village’s conservation easement program. (See Corrales Comment Vol.XXXIX No.10 August 8, 2020 “Farmland Preservation Easement Decision Explained.”)
At that time, Sisco replied, “We have not given up, but the expectation of land values of the landowners and the documented appraised value for vacant farmland in Corrales are fairly far apart. And the current landowners of the Trosello tract are not interested in doing a conservation easement, they are only interested in selling. “We tried multiple creative ways to finance the deal, bringing in third parties, trying different configurations, etc., but it typically ended in someone paying more than fair market value for the property or having the current landowners do the conservation easement, both of which were not possible at the time. We will continue to search for solutions.”
He added: “We exhausted our options on Trosello before Haslam became a potential project.” Then, a creative solution apparently surfaced. According to Woldman, the possibility arose that an agreement might be reached for a joint operation of the fields that included participation by NACA.
That school was founded by Kara Bobroff, a former deputy secretary of the N.M. Public Education Department. She is the daughter of the late Jack Bobroff, long-time superintendent of Albuquerque Public Schools. Preliminary discussions began on a possible joint operation of the Trosello farm included using it as a site for instruction about agriculture and marketing.
Bobroff, a Corrales resident, was recognized by former President Barack Obama as one of the nation’s top social innovators. She shares heritage with the Navajo and Lakota tribes. The academy she directed is a tuition-free public charter school for grades kindergarten through high school at 1000 Indian School Road NW. Members of more than 60 tribes have been enrolled. She now heads the One Generation Fund, which collaborates with NACA.
Minutes of the September 9, 2020 meeting of the Farmland Preservation and Agricultural Commission state that Bobroff had expressed interest in the school’s involvement in farming in Corrales. “She is interested in the Trosello field as a possible site for indigenous and local farming/education,” according to the minutes. In a telephone interview April 3, the One Generation senior program director, Alan Brauer, said the one-year lease may continue in the future. “It’s typical to have a year-to-year lease for a farming operation. We intend to build a relationship with the landowner, Beverlee Henry. “But, of course, we could hardly have chosen a worse year to get started giving the irrigation potential this year.”
The Trosello tract is the foundation’s first “indigenous farm hub” although another quarter-acre parcel here is also under cultivation, Brauer said. More acreage in Corrales could be added in the future, including the possibility of reclaiming farmland that has been abandoned. Brauer forwarded the following information about the project to Corrales Comment. “The Indigenous Farm Hub engages Indigenous communities in creating a network of farmers and families that will strengthen local and sustainable food systems by providing access to healthy foods, build prosperity for farmers and local communities through land reclamation, and reconnect the bond between language and culture to Indigenous practices of agriculture.”
The material further explains the relationship between the academy and the fund. “The Indigenous Farm Hub is a project of One Generation Fund currently led by Executive Director Kara Bobroff and Senior Director of Programs and Initiatives Alan Brauer. Alan will be responsible for implementing the farm hub’s priorities with the guidance of an advisory board of Indigenous farmers and language experts.
“Ms. Bobroff is an Indigenous leader who has dedicated her career to working for positive change and Indigenous principal of the Albuquerque-based Native American Community Academy (NACA) and has more than 25 years of experience in Indigenous education. She was recognized by President Obama as one of 100 top social innovators in the nation and was the New Mexico Public Education Department Deputy Secretary of Identity, Equity and Transformation prior to founding One Generation Fund.
“Mr. Brauer spent his formative years and early career on his family’s dairy farm in western Maryland. He moved to New Mexico in 2001 to teach first grade on the Navajo Nation in Smith Lake. Mr. Brauer entered into teacher coaching and non-profit management with Teach For America in both New Mexico and Baltimore. During his time in Baltimore, he launched Stony Branch Growers, a CSA [community supported agriculture project] that provided 25 shareholders with weekly subscriptions of produce raised on his farm. He joined the NACA Inspired Schools Network in 2015 to lead the fellowship implementation and manage technical assistance and school supports. Most recently, Mr. Brauer served as the director of the Charter Schools Division at the New Mexico Public Education Department.
Mr. Brauer and the advisory board are overseeing the launch of the Indigenous Farm Hub, which will be supported by a team of three full time staff in the immediate term, with the goal to grow to nine by 2023-24.” The fund’s strategic five-year plan, concluding in 2026, calls for launching 15 more farm projects across North America. “It will strengthen Indigenous communities in four ways:
• Create a systemic impact on the access, quality, and abundance of locally grown food for families in need.
• Develop economic development and prosperity for food system workers and farmers in Indigenous communities.
• Embed Indigenous language and culture vitalization within each created initiative.
• Reclaim Indigenous sovereignty over local food systems.
The overview for what would occur at the farm hub here in Corrales is described as follows. “The Indigenous Farm Hub (IFH) will be located in central New Mexico and will be a working farm that provides the venue for a comprehensive, paid fellowship that integrates sustainable agricultural practices, traditional Indigenous farming knowledge, and Native culture, language, and customs.
“IFH will recruit, identify, select, and support fellows to participate in a two-year program that culminates in the launch of community-responsive farms in their home communities. During year one, Farm Hub fellows will work full-time on the training center farm while engaging in learning experiences that will build on their experiences. The fellowship curricula will cover traditional Indigenous food systems, historical context, diverse planting and growing techniques, sustainable agricultural practices, ties with language and culture, food justice and sovereignty, land reclamation, business planning and viability, and community activism and involvement.
“In year two, fellows will launch their farm operations in their home communities and will receive start-up funds and operations support from the Farm Hub staff. As a working farm, the Indigenous Farm Hub will provide fellows with a robust agricultural experience while also fostering local community fresh food access through a CSA model, producing value-added products and partnering with established distribution centers.
“Integral to the model is a strong partnership with local communities in which community-responsive farms will be located in order to ensure the localized farm enterprise amplifies access to fresh produce, fosters job creation, and economic development while also facilitating the vitalization of land-based language and cultural practices.”