Speaking in Corrales’ La Entrada Park June 5, Congresswoman Theresa Leger Fernandez was adamant that concerted action be taken to confront climate change. “We are ground-zero for climate crisis,” she emphasized. “We need to be talking about revenue replacement” for money that would come to New Mexico as the state and nation move away from fossil fuel extraction. She was accompanied by her legislative assistant, Adeline DeYoung, who grew up in Corrales and until recently worked for Citizens Climate Lobby. In introducing DeYoung, Leger Fernandez pointed out that the young Corraleña had written her master’s thesis on states’ relying on oil and gas to fund education.
Leger Fernandez said she intended to introduce a bill in Congress to mitigate financial losses due to decreased oil and gas leasing on federal lands. “My bill is going to separate out oil and gas from federal lands, so we don’t need to worry about the loss as we transition off of that. “We’re not going to cease that drilling right away; that’s just not how it works. Fifty percent of the oil and gas produced in New Mexico comes from federal land, and we need to wean ourselves of that. So my bill is going to say, ‘let’s look at the last five years of oil and gas revenues from public lands,’ and say ‘We’re going to give you the average of those five years, guaranteed. So you’re no longer going to be worried about what we’re doing on federal land because you’re going to be guaranteed that payment.
“That’s going to go down over time, of course, but we’d have a guaranteed paycheck that would allow us to do what we need to do on our federal land to save this beautiful place we call home. I think that’s the way we need to go; being honest about our difficulties during that transition, but also address the climate crisis. This would not touch anything on private land or state land, just on federal land.”
The District 3 congresswoman further explained the concept. “What I will be proposing is that on federal land, we de-couple the revenue that the state receives from oil and gas development on those federal lands from whatever happens on them. So the State of New Mexico would receive an average of what we have received over the last five years, and that would be received as a guaranteed payment. That would allow the federal government to decide what it needs to do to assist our climate goals on federal land without harming New Mexico. That might mean leaving it in the ground, or no more new leasing. This would not impact existing leases and existing drilling. I think that is the kind of approach we need to look at. How do we take bold action and at the same time recognize the vulnerability that New Mexico has?
“My revenue replacement bill would de-couple the federal royalties that New Mexico gets from the payments that our state gets. And one of the nice things about it is that it would be guaranteed, so the State would know in advance what it would get and could budget for it.” As it has been, she explained, those revenues fluctuated greatly, in a boom-bust cycle.
Ominous black smoke billowed above the tree canopy near homes near the end of Gossett Lane Sunday afternoon, June 13, sending fire fighters scrambling. At 1:10 p.m., the outdoor temperature in Corrales had climbed to 106 degrees, and highly flammable cottonwood seeds had clumped along fence lines and landscaping during a steady but shifting breeze, augmenting the risk that followed a series of what were reported as explosions. Property was charred, but no one was injured. While neighbors hosed down their homes, livestock was quickly rescued, thanks to an already prepared evacuation protocol. A neighbor, Mei Hua, posted this description to You Tube: “A huge explosion shook the house. Ran outside and the neighbor’s yard and a portion of the bosque were ablaze.”
A cause for the fire was not immediately clear. A neighbor said a large branch may have fallen from a tree on the property, so that may have pulled down a power line that ignited the blaze. When a transformer on a power line fails for one of several reasons, it produces a loud boom and a fireball accompanied by a large plume of smoke. That description would seem to fit what was reported that Sunday afternoon, but Fire Chief Anthony Martinez, still on scene nearly six hours later, said a transformer had not blown. The Fire Department’s Tanya Lattin said the following day that “the cause is under investigation.” The sounds of explosions were said to have been tires bursting from the heat. Lattin said she would not speculate about the cause, but noted “tires are loud and there were lots of them on the property.”
“It was a really big fire,” Martinez said. Units responded from Rio Rancho, Albuquerque and Sandoval County to assist Corrales fire fighters. Lattin said the fire was difficult to contain due to numerous “cars, boats, machinery, shed, dog houses, piles of wood, piles of tires, fences, multiple large cottonwood trees and fencing.
“When the Fire Department arrived on scene, around 25 cars, a large stack of tires, trees and fences were on fire. I’m sure some of the back sheds were burning as well.
“The home was surrounded 180 degrees by high-intensity flames, with the back fence and neighbor’s bamboo burning.” Battalion Commander Lattin said the house did not burn although the attic space “was hot and smoking.”
Since the equipment being used to re-pave Corrales Road is prone to break-downs, according to company representatives, Cutler Repaving has a mechanic and electrician on the job site. As of June 14, progress was lagging due to an equipment problem the previous week, leading some villagers to doubt that the entire length of State Highway 448 through Corrales would be paved sooner than 25 days from the June 8 start date. But then, announced timelines have seemed a little squishy from the start. As the re-paving began, Cutler employees distributed door-hanger notices to properties along Corrales Road seeking cooperation as the machinery was expected to roll past specific locations. But the notice slipped into Corrales Comment’s roadside mailbox (without postage paid) said “On June 6-13 we will be making street improvements in front of your home. No parking will be allowed on the street between 7 a.m. and 6 p.m. as well as restricted traffic during the work operations.”
In fact, the paving vehicles were nowhere near that location as of June 14. The notice also was curiously out-of-synch with the Corrales situation by informing that the “curbline milling process will reduce the elevation of the old pavement to line it up with the gutter.” Was the highway department, or the Village of Corrales, supposed to have installed a gutter at some time over the past 70 years? The notice further explained that “the repaving process uses heat to soften the old pavement. Occasionally shrubs and brushes near the curb are subject to damage. Please help us protect these by making a garden hose available to wet down the bushes or shrubs.”
Despite the inappropriate boiler-plate language in the door-hanger notice, the Kansas-based company contracted to re-pave Corrales Road was true to its word about wait times for backed-up traffic. It had promised drivers would not have to wait in the queue more than 15 minutes to fall in behind the pilot car. Occasionally as many as 40 vehicles were waiting to move through the construction zone, but generally tempers remained in check. Cutler’s method, at least initially, was to pave one lane for a mile and then go back to do the other half of the roadway, so that, after a two-day period, both lanes would be re-paved for a mile.
Written into the contract was a dictum that Corrales Road is to be fully re-opened by 5 p.m. Work begins by 9 a.m. The work plan calls for the signs and traffic cones to be placed starting around 8 a.m. Usually in the past, when traffic was disrupted along Corrales Road drivers made their own decisions to detour onto the ditch banks, specifically either the Corrales Acequia west of Corrales Road or along the Corrales Interior Drain on the west. But those options seem to have been chosen less often this time. In the olden days, clouds of dust would billow up and hang in the still air as impatient drivers raced off in a huff along the ditch roads to get to work, or to appointments, or just to exercise an excuse for a huff.
By Scott Manning
In the wake of the recent cyberattacks against the Colonial Pipeline and the meatpacking company JBS SA, Gerard Gagliano explains the nature of recent cyberattacks and what measures must be implemented in new security systems to keep governments and businesses safe. Gagliano is a cybersecurity expert and the founder of Prodentity, a Corrales company that specializes in developing security solutions. According to Gagliano, the current approach to cybersecurity in business and government emphasizes the importance of credentials which determine and restrict access to sensitive information. This access-control model will be familiar to readers: to access an online account, one must present a username and password as identification. In a more sophisticated implementation, different users on a server are granted credentials based on their role in the organization. This means that an individual of authority in a business or organization may be granted extensive access to a variety of sensitive materials in the computer system. To access these materials, the user simply presents the correct credentials as proof of identity.
Gagliano explains that this current credential-based model of cybersecurity is 60 years old and seriously flawed. Consider, for example, what happens when a hacker obtains the correct, credential information of a high-ranking official in an organization. This hacker can use the credential information to pose as the official and access highly sensitive information from the computer system. Or take the case where a hacker obtains a low-level credential which enables only limited access in a computer system. The hacker can remain inside of the computer system to assess the security weaknesses of the system from within. Over time, the hacker can gain higher access credentials or observe activities that take place in the organization’s computer system and server. In a ransomware attack, the criminal accesses highly sensitive information and encrypts the company or government data so that a key is required to access the information. The criminal then charges the organization a large amount of money and gives the organization the key in exchange.
The Colonial Pipeline and JBS SA suffered from ransomware attacks in May. Ultimately, both Colonial Pipeline and JBS SA were forced to pay the criminals ransom in exchange for the keys to encrypted company data. These examples demonstrate that the credential-based model does not provide adequate security against sophisticated hacking and ransomware. Gagliano explains that a new security paradigm must be embraced that supplements credentials with a “trust and context” model of security. This new model of security, developed in the 1990s, creates a criterion of behaviors and patterns that must be followed for a credentialed user to be trusted in a computer system. To understand this approach, consider the situation where your car breaks down and you need repair services.
Most people would consult with their friends and family for a referral to a good repair service before consulting with the yellow pages because we trust our friends and family more than anonymous third parties. This model of trust can be mirrored in the cybersecurity setting: users in a computer network exhibit behaviors that constitute a spectrum of cyber trust. In practice, this trust model would translate to a variety of applications. For example, a sophisticated security model would consider not just the credentials of an individual but also the network that the individual is using to access the computer system. If the company is domestic with no international operations but a credentialed user attempts to access the computer system from a server outside of the country, then the security system would restrict this access. This kind of irregular server access yields lower trust than domestic server access.
Context also matters. Say that a cybersecurity network identifies that a certain credentialed user often accesses the computer system during a standard workday. Then there is an attempt made to access or work in the computer system made at 1 a.m. This behavior is also suspicious because it deviates from the normal work schedule. This kind of low-trust behavior can also be monitored and controlled. And to supplement access credentials, additional security questions and requirements of proof of identity could be required of users as they operate a computer system. All these considerations would make the trust-based model of security far safer than the current credential model. Gagliano explains that this new security model aims to be proactive in security rather than reactive. The traditional security model is reactive, meaning that it works to identify and minimize damage done after a breach has already occurred. The new trust-based model would limit breaches from occurring at all by restricting broad access to credentialed individuals and only granting access to the parts of a computer system that specific operators regular use. This change minimizes the risk that one compromised set of credentials would threaten vast amounts of data contained in a computer system.
Gagliano says that this new security framework must be adopted to fundamentally change cybersecurity. Other solutions may help to move away from the old model, but without this new framework the solutions are at best an incremental step forward. Both businesses and governments use the outdated, credential-based model of cybersecurity. Gagliano suggests that organizations have been hesitant to implement cybersecurity changes for a host of reasons. In his experience as an advisor for the government, government officials were afraid to make large decisions about cybersecurity. And Gagliano suggests that some businesses have been more focused on profit margin than on solving the cybersecurity problem. This inertia is only worsened by naiveté in the severity of cybersecurity threats and by procrastination.
According to Gagliano, the cybersecurity issue is made worse by a lack of transparency from companies and the government about cyber-attacks. Experts speculate that fewer than half of ransomware attacks are made public in any way. Gagliano suggests that this is because companies and governments are embarrassed to reveal their vulnerabilities to their customers and citizens. The concern for citizens and consumers is further compounded by the fact that there exist no laws that require compensation for individuals who are associated with a hacked company or government service. If a company loses a customer’s credit card information in cyberattack, the bank will often just issue the individual a new credit card without further compensation. Cybersecurity is also a concern for the ever-expanding internet of things (IOT) which encourages the model that devices of all kinds should be connected to the internet. These kinds of products include everything from smart home devices to kitchen appliances that are connected to the internet. Many of these consumer devices are designed with little to no consideration of cybersecurity. According to Gagliano, this kind of cybersecurity sloppiness exists all the way down to the individual living routers where people install WIFI networks and leave the default password on the machine. To combat this sloppiness, Gagliano calls for comprehensive security considerations for all internet devices.
The recent cyberattacks at the Colonial Pipeline and at JBS demonstrate that natural resources and food supplies are susceptible to cyberattacks. Gagliano calls for a new model of cybersecurity that considers all internet devices because any network is potentially at risk. Cyberattacks have evolved over the past few decades into sophisticated operations. In the infancy of cyberattacks, the goal of such attacks was simply malicious. These malicious attacks aimed to cause harm to computer networks. But cyberattacks have evolved into a commoditized industry. These days, ransomware services are offered to hackers who pay to use ransomware platforms to encrypt and ransom sensitive corporate and governmental data. The hacker keeps a portion of the money made and gives a percentage to the ransomware service that provided the hacking infrastructure. The next frontier of offensive cyber defense involves tracing these hacking infrastructures and shutting them down. Unlike most companies, the government has the resources and reach to trace internet interactions concerning this commoditized hacking industry. But these hacking groups are savvy about preserving their infrastructure. DarkSide, the criminal group behind the Colonial Pipeline attack in early May, announced that it was disbanding. This move was likely done to bury the evidence of the hack and to preserve its infrastructure for further use.
In addition to commoditized cyber-attacks by lone-wolves and criminal organizations, there is the question of foreign involvement. A major concern is hacking from rival nations such as China and Russia. Gagliano explains that hacking groups located in China or Russia are, if not officially state sponsored, then tolerated and accepted by the government. Gagliano advises that the trust-based security model be adopted by government and industry regardless of what political agreements are reached concerning cybersecurity. Gagliano admits that hackers are bright individuals and that someone will always figure out a workaround in any security system. Therefore, even after adopting the trust-based cybersecurity model, companies and governments must remain vigilant and open to further security solutions. Improvements to cybersecurity will be an ongoing process. A good first start would be to eliminate the outdated credential-based model.
Another three acres of farmland adjacent to Corrales Road at the north end of the valley is under an option for the Village to purchase a conservation easement. The three acres between Corrales Road and the Bosque Preserve are known as the Lopez Farm, owned by Emilio, Veronica and Renee Lopez. If the Village’s acquisition is completed, they would continue to own the land, but not the right to subdivide it for home sites. In that sense, the land would be preserved in perpetuity as open space or farmland. The minimum price for such a conservation easement on that tract is $360,000. The Village’s option runs until November 30, 2021.
At the June 15 Village Council meeting, councillors voted on whether to gain that option. Their decision could not be included in this issue. The Lopez farm would be the second property in recent weeks for which the Village gained an option to purchase such an easement. The Village is set to preserve in perpetuity another 10 acres of farmland at the north end of Corrales. That is the Phelps Farm on the east side of Corrales Road where Trees of Corrales has had a tree nursery for its wholesale business in recent years. It is a little south of the intersection with Romero Road, one of the main entrances to the Bosque Preserve.
The offered Lopez acreage is just two parcels away from the Trees of Corrales Phelps Farm, to the south, near Lipe Road. At the May 25 Village Council meeting, an option to purchase a conservation easement on that land owned by Courtnay and Anne Koontz was approved unanimously. A final appraisal has yet to be made, but the Village is expected to pay approximately $780,000 to prevent the tract from being developed. (See Corrales Comment Vol.XXXX No.8 June 5, 2021 “Another 10 Acres of Prime Farmland To Be Saved.”) The money for both easement acquisitions has been generated from sale of general obligation (GO) bonds as directed by Corrales voters in the 2018 municipal election. Those bonds were issued to raise $2.5 million to be used for farmland preservation.
The 9.78-acre tract is under an option until the end of October this year. Last year, the Village acquired a similar easement on the Haslam family’s farm a little south of the Phelps land between the Main Canal and the Corrales Lateral irrigation ditch west of Corrales Road. That earlier acquisition preserved 12 acres at a cost of approximately $960,000 from those GO bonds. The agreement between the Lopez family and the Village of Corrales notes that the three acres “includes scenic open space located along, visible from, and directly adjacent to Corrales Road, the primary thoroughfare through the village the Corrales Bosque Preserve; and a public recreational trail along Sandoval Lateral, which is frequented by many residents and visitors for walking, running, horseback riding and mountain biking. The publicly accessible viewing platform along the Sandoval Lateral and Corrales Bosque Preserve will also provide significant opportunities for the public to enjoy the scenic values of the property.”
As with earlier farmland added to the Village’s farmland preservation program, the easements to be acquired would be held and administered for the Village by the New Mexico Land Conservancy, based in Santa Fe. If the deal goes through, the owners of the land, or any subsequent owners, would have the right to construct an agriculture-related building within a quarter-acre enclave, similar to other earlier transactions. Early in the Village’s program, the Farmland Preservation and Agricultural Commission developed a check-list for the easement program with 14 “positive criteria,” including pre-1907 irrigation water rights, whether the parcel abuts an irrigation ditch, or is currently being farmed, as well as scenic quality, potential for wildlife habitat and whether there is strong neighborhood support.
A U.S. Department of Agriculture fact sheet described the concept as follows. “A conservation easement is an interest in land, as defined and delineated in a deed, whereby the landowner conveys specific rights, title and interests in a property to a State, Tribal or local government or non-governmental organization. The landowner retains those rights, title and interests in the property which are specifically reserved to the landowner in the easement deed, such as the right to farm.…
“A landowner submits an application to an entity… that has an existing farm or ranch land protection program. In exchange for payment, participating landowners agree not to convert their land to non-agricultural uses, and to develop and implement a conservation plan for any highly erodible land.” The fact sheet on the USDA’s Farm and Ranch Land Protection Program further pointed out that “The value of a conservation easement usually is determined through a professional appraisal. A qualified appraiser assesses the difference between the fair market value of the property, often using comparable sales, and its restricted value under the easement.…
“The easements generally restrict non-farm development and subdivisions. Some farm-related housing may be allowed.… The easements become part of the land deed and are recorded in the local land records.” On August 31, 2004 by a margin of nearly 5-to-1, Corrales voters approved issuance of municipal bonds to buy conservation easements on farmland here to keep it out of development. The 2004 bond election was the culmination of a 33-year commitment by villagers to keep their community rural. At least 29 states in the United States have conservation easement programs to save farmland. Those have already secured at least 6.5 million acres for future agricultural use. According to the American Farmland Trust, “Every day 2,000 acres of agricultural land are paved over, fragmented or converted to uses that jeopardize farming.”
A new, taller cell phone tower disguised as an elm tree may soon be erected behind the main fire station. Planned and presented more than a year ago, the Verizon cell tower would go in the area formerly used for recycling. A revised proposal was considered by the Corrales Planning and Zoning Commission at its June 16 meeting. Results of the commission’s decision could not be included in this issue. The existing 70-foot tall flag pole cell tower in front of the fire station would be removed and replaced by the 85-foot tower east of the station. With exceptions, Corrales has a height restriction of 26 feet. Some villagers had filed objections to the proposed higher cell tower, but the Village recently lost in its bid to deny the cell tower request on the former Sandia View Academy property. (See Corrales Comment Vol.XXXX No.4 April 10, 2021 “Cell Tower Erected Next to Corrales Main Canal.”)
A few near neighbors complained a year ago when the new tower at the fire station was proposed, and some have done so in recent weeks as the project came back to the P&Z commission. But preliminary approvals have been rolling in. A lease agreement was signed and finalized between the Village of Corrales and Crown Atlantic Company in April 2021 for the area behind the firs station that would be used. Village Administrator Ron Curry signed the lease agreement. The application submitted to P&Z is for Site Development Plan SDP 21-03, Crown Castle, Replacement Cell Tower at Fire Station No.1, 4920 Corrales Road. It seeks site development plan approval “to remove the existing 70-foot ‘flagpole’ style cell tower at 4920 Corrales Road (in front of Fire Station No.1) and replace it and relocate with an 85 foot ‘tree’ style cell tower behind the fire station building on the south side of the property. This property is zoned M for Municipal Use.”
The submission further advises, “ Site Development Plan applications specific to Wireless Facilities are governed by Article VI. Telecommunications Facilities, which begins in Village Code at Section 18-201. Wireless telecommunications facilities are a permissive use on municipal properties, per Section 18-207. “Originally, this application was to have been heard end of 2019 or early 2020, but COVID-19 and other considerations pushed it forward. While most documents provided by the applicant did not need revision, the Village requested an updated NIER (radio-frequency report) and review of the engineering (structural report), both of which were done. A town hall meeting was held in July 2019 whereby Crown Castle staff, including their engineer, flew out to Corrales and met with members of the public to answer questions. Certified letters were sent to all within 300 feet of the proposed tower at that time, and approximately 20 neighbors did attend. The Village did not ask Crown Castle to repeat the town hall.”
The submission pointed out that, as part of the lease agreement, Fire Chief Anthony Martinez made several requests, to which the applicant agreed. These include to replace a portion of the crumbling wall between the Fire Station and Sherrod Court on the south side; erect a 35-foot flagpole; replace an existing chain-link gate with an industrial or commercial grade security metal gate; move a shed on the Fire Department property; and provide a five-foot telecommunications antenna on top of the new 85-foot tower behind the fire station.
P&Z Administrator Laurie Stout said the new tower would be 15 feet taller than the one in front of the fire station, including the Fire Department’s five-foot antenna. She included the following in her summary for the commission. She said the application must include “a scenic and landscaping plan showing the appearance of the proposed wireless telecommunications facility from all streets, roads and recreational trails within one-half mile of the property where located and from all sites, buildings, existing structures, cultural resources or other objects identified in the cultural resources report, and including a landscaping plan or other plan showing how the visual effect of the proposed wireless telecommunications facility will be mitigated.” That meant production of full-color “before and after” renderings “showing the visual impact of the proposed tree-style cell tower from five different vantage points. The Village requested that Crown Castle utilize the ‘stealth’ technology called for in Village Code Section 18-208 (b) (3), i.e. the ‘tree’ style, to better blend in with the surroundings. Although jokes have been made because it is called an ‘elm’ style, the proposed cell tower is not a tree and in no way resembles the Chinese elm forbidden in the Village! There are elm varieties, such as the Frontier Elm, that are allowed.”
Stout explained that the existing cell tower that was “permitted and built in 1999, is a 70-foot tall flagpole with antennas enclosed in a canister at the top. Crown Castle is requesting permission to construct a new 85-foot pole disguised as an elm tree as a replacement for the flagpole to allow for improved Verizon Wireless signal coverage, greater equipment flexibility to deploy advanced wireless technologies, and the accommodation of additional users to increase service offerings within the Village. Due to its narrow profile, the existing flagpole cannot accommodate the latest antenna and radio equipment which are required by today’s wireless networks without modifications which would compromise its appearance as a flagpole. The new, taller elm tree will not only permit the installation of advanced technologies and equipment, it will also allow for additional users to utilize the same facility to offer their services within the Village.”
She further explained that “The reason why the existing 70’ flagpole facility is not suitable for either expansion or co-location is due to its narrow profile. The addition of additional antennas or even replacement of existing antennas on the existing flag pole is extremely limited since it is only 20 inches in diameter. The latest wireless antennas designed to utilize new frequencies licensed by the FCC are much wider and deeper than the original antennas in use when the facility was designed in 1999. Advanced broadband technologies also require radios to be installed adjacent to the antennas instead of on the ground. Finally, the multiple frequency bands used generally require multiple antennas per sector. Installing all of the necessary equipment on the existing flag pole would require structural modifications to make it significantly wider which would compromise the camouflage design of the flag pole.
“In addition, the existing pole is not designed to accommodate additional wireless providers. Any additional provider would have to mount its antennas and radios externally, further degrading the facility’s aesthetic. Given that this facility is located directly off of Corrales Road, it would be impossible to comply with the aesthetic standards required in Village code. As such, co-location is not feasible on the existing structure. And, she said, “Placing the new facility, while 15 feet taller, in the back half of the property will dramatically decrease its profile and visibility from the frontage, since it will be largely screened by the existing fire station, water tank and other nearby structures. In addition, the elm tree design will more readily blend in in those spots where it is visible above the tree line.”
Stout said “The elm tree design was specifically chosen to blend in with the character of the Corrales Road scenic byway. Elms are a common, if not traditional, landscaping tree in the North Valley. As demonstrated in the accompanying photo simulations, from a distance the protruding visible portion of the antenna structure will blend into the tree line and not readily stand out as a wireless facility.” The long-delayed AT&T cell tower at the west end of Academy Drive was finally erected this spring. The tall, thick, white tower went up in late March, but initially lacked antenna installations. 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, 2020 memo that no obstacles be placed on AT&T’s intent to move ahead with construction.
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. 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.”)
The proposal considered at the June 16 Planning and Zoning Commission meeting is the closest thing yet to a two-story motel or extended stay facility in Corrales. The property at 5065 Corrales Road is already zoned for commercial use and now being used as a “wellness retreat.” The plan would accommodate people wanting a “combination of medical, behavioral, emotional and therapeutic practical applications.” In the application for site development plan approval, owner Joan Lewis wants to add to the four medical offices already operating there. As the site development plan states, “four existing bedrooms with baths that the applicant would like to use as four commercial short-term rentals, which is permissive use in the C-zone as per Section 18-37(3)aa Short-Term Rental lodging establishments with no more than six guest rooms.”
The site plan calls for 20 parking spaces plus three spaces for the disabled. Planning and Zoning Administrator Laurie Stout recommended approval of the site plan because it complies with Village regulations. “Recommendation: application is compliant with Village Code Section 18-45(b). Approve with applicant’s stated uses very clearly outlined by her during the meeting. Up to four short-term rental units upstairs, with a total occupancy not to exceed eight persons.” The P&Z commission’s decision on the site plan could not be included in this issue.
Lewis’ submission to the P&Z commission included the following description of what she intends to do if the plan is approved. “The intended use of the property at the above address is to establish a comfortable community-oriented wellness retreat that takes advantage of the ambience of the village of Corrales and provides educational and/or participating programs for clients interested in a combination of medical, behavioral, emotional and therapeutic, practical applications and didactic events for accessing wellness.”
According to the application, “the owner currently plans to reside in the western portion of the first floor. At some point, the residential space may be utilized for commercial use for two additional office spaces with private baths that share kitchen and living room spaces.… Commercial use is projected for the second floor for a short-term rental of four rooms with private baths that share a kitchen and living space. The separate (400 square foot) building adjacent to the residential western portion of the first floor is commercial for small meetings commensurate with the intent of the property use as noted above.
“To this end, we are offering:
1. Short term rental. four bedrooms, each with a private bath, on the upper level of the back of the existing structure, two office suites below.
2. Laundry room, enclosed and separate from structure… to handle linens.
3. Front and back decks for small seminars, breakouts or relaxation.
4. Parking lot designed to accommodate 20 spaces.
5. A gazebo, small tables and chairs are planned for comfort and shade for clients.”
Two other applications for short-term rentals elsewhere in Corrales were considered at the June 16 P&Z meeting. Carol Akright sought permission to run a short-term rental business in her home at 108 Camino de la Tierra. That would be for one bedroom in the three bedroom house to accommodate two adults and one child under 12. The other, sought by Jan Fiala at 416 Camino Arco Iris, would rent out two bedrooms in a four-bedroom home, with a maximum of four adults. Short-term rental of Corrales homes and Airbnb arrangements began to come under closer scrutiny after the owner of a former church building at 5220 Corrales Road allowed it to be used as an event center. At its August 21, 2019 session, the Corrales Planning and Zoning Commission grilled Nick Mystrom about his plans to use the church-turned-residence as a rental through Airbnb. He had come before P&Z seeking approval for a home occupation permit, while admitting he had been renting it out for more than a year, several times for wedding events. Several residents in the neighborhood attended the August 21, 2019 commission meeting to complain that activities, especially parties, at 5220 Corrales Road were disruptive and unpleasant. But Mystrom died later that year, and the property was sold.
The incidents described by neighbors were just the latest complaints arising from rentals in residential areas; often problems have arisen when rowdy guests rent Corrales homes for the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta. At the November 12, 2019 Village Council meeting, councillors agreed to post and publish an ordinance to establish better control over short-term rentals, and collect lodgers’ tax and gross receipts tax on such rentals. “It is estimated that we have about 100 short-term rentals operating in the village,” P&Z Administrator Stout said. “Right now, we have no way to regulate them. This new ordinance will give us the tools to do that.” Mystrom had described himself as a real estate investor.
Despite new regulations on guest houses, or “casitas,” in an ordinance considered at the June 16 Village Council meeting, such secondary dwellings are sure to remain controversial. Councillors’ vote on Ordinance 21-04 “amending Section 18-29 of the Village Land Use Code to Provide Clarity to the Definitions of Accessory Structures, Accessory Use, Kitchen and Dwelling Unit” could not be included in this issue, but the new law was expected to be adopted. Corrales’ basic land use laws have always been meant to maintain low residential density, especially to avoid contamination of domestic wells due to septic discharges. To achieve that, in most of Corrales, lots were to be at least one acre, upon which only one home could be built. Until now, secondary living quarters were permissible only if they did not include a kitchen.
But therein lay the need for a better definition of what constitutes a kitchen. Proposed Ordinance 21-04 put it this way. “Kitchen means any room used, intended or designed to be used for cooking or the preparation of food or containing a range or oven, or utility connections suitable for servicing a range or oven.” So a refrigerator would seem to be allowed; is a microwave oven an oven, even if you only want to heat water for tea? And the ordinance considered at the June 16 council meeting included this definition of an accessory building or structure: “a building detached from and incidental and subordinate to the dwelling unit and located on the same lot, such as a detached garage, workshop or studio. It may have a half bathroom, but no shower or tub, and may not contain bedrooms or a kitchen. It shall not be used as a dwelling for human occupancy or habitation.”
More clarity was to be instituted by the following definition of dwelling unit. “One or more rooms and a single kitchen designed as a unit for human occupancy or habitation by one family for living and sleeping purposes, but not including recreational vehicles, travel trailers or converted buses, whether on wheels or a permanent foundation. A dwelling unit may be a mobile home, modular home, manufactured home or site-built house. It may also be an independent unit or an apartment, townhouse or other such multiple-unit residential structure where allowed.” Since Corrales incorporated as a municipality in 1971, a bedrock community consensus prevailed that regulations were needed to retain a rural, or at least a semi-rural, character, and that an essential tool to accomplish that were restrictions on how many dwellings could be built on one acre (or on two acres in the south end of Corrales that was formerly within Bernalillo County).
However, from the beginning, political and social pressures arose to accommodate special circumstances, such as allowing a mobile home to be temporarily placed on a one-acre lot so that the son or daughter of an aged or ailing parent could provide care. But after the family crisis had passed, how would it be assured that the secondary dwelling was removed… and not rented out for supplemental income? And what if construction of a “casita,” an actual house, was permitted for that purpose, would the Village actually require that it be demolished? The council’s deliberations on regulations for casitas were informed by results of a survey among citizens produced by the Planning and Zoning Commission this past April and May. Responses came in online via a SurveyMonkey format and by a printed questionnaire submitted to the Village Office.
Of the 182 responses, the viewpoints collected came predominately from people who have lived in Corrales more than 20 years. Just 33 of the 182 responses were submitted by people here for five years or less. Fifty-two percent were between 61 and 75 years old. Seventy-two percent of respondents said they are extremely concerned or very concerned about the negative impact to domestic wells from increased density resulting from secondary dwellings. A section of the survey on “regulation of the construction of new casitas” asked whether villagers agreed with imposing new regulations that would ban new casitas. Forty-five percent said yes, they agreed or strongly agreed with that idea. But the most favored new regulation would be to “limit the total square footage of all dwellings on a lot,” 71 percent of respondents agreed or strongly agreed. Still, 28.8 percent strongly disagreed with banning construction of new casitas.
P&Z Chairman John McCandless told Corrales Comment he was struck by “the apparent disconnect between the predominant concern expressed about casitas —the impact on groundwater quality— and the favored policy suggestions. I found it interesting that only about a third of the respondents thought it would be a good idea to require all new casitas to be connected to a Village wastewater system. “There are a number of possible explanations, including the fact that we don’t have much of a wastewater system at this time, but it seemed counter-intuitive to me that folks would be concerned about groundwater contamination and yet not generally support connection to a sewer system.”
Considerable insights are offered in the respondents’ open-ended comments submitted. Below are samples. Identities were not given.
• “Casitas adversely increase the population density and directly contravene the one-house-per-acre which is vital in making Corrales. Corrales is literally surrounded by towns and cities with higher density: anyone who wants more can go there. Casitas and multiple houses, like those on the West Ella lot, diminish the value of our investment in our properties and will turn Corrales into just another overbuilt suburb. Trying to force a change in the village this catastrophic 50 years on is a disservice to everyone who has lived here and made Corrales as attractive as the newcomers find it. If the administration simply enforced the existing ordinances and followed the Comprehensive Plan, we would not be in the sorry situation that the fecklessness of the Village employees has created.”
• “The issue of casitas is not as big as the huge houses going up that can accommodate more people than a modest home and casita can. Some of the garages on the new homes could easily be turned into casitas and the Village would be none the wiser.”
• “Prospective regulations for casitas should address whether the intended occupant(s) is a family member/relative versus one who is not, giving favorable consideration to a proposed casita for family members/relatives. Concurrently, the regs need to address what happens when ownership changes, i.e. not allowing occupancy of a casita by non- family members/ relatives.”
• “Casitas serve a lot of residents in the community for family members. Maybe provide a grace period of two years for any commercial renting or use to deter over-population of casitas and permits.”
• “Casitas are a dodge to avoid existing rules. If you allow casitas, Corrales will end up just like every other suburb... a sort of East Rio Rancho.”
• “There are many elderly folks living in Corrales, and having a casita to rent out, or they live in and rent the house that allows them to stay in their homes. What I don't like are these extremely large homes on an acre that then add a large casita.”
• “A casita can be a community asset. It brings income to the community. It can allow family to be close, or a small home in a rural setting, or a space for visitors, which may assist with income for owners. A casita is typically a small build.”
• “Casitas are being used to get around the housing density rules of the village and for use as Airbnbs. They are turning single family residential areas into multi-family residential areas,either on a full-time or part-time basis. Allowing casitas is letting unscrupulous people change the nature of the village. Please stop this!”
• “We are interested in building a casita for an aging parent. The idea of banning casitas is shocking and unjust. Perhaps if there is concern over vacation renting, that should be addressed. Banning casitas is not the way to go.”
• “I believe that the Village should permit construction of new casitas. For several specific items, such as short term rentals or even wastewater, appropriate regulations can manage the issues. Rather than banning casitas, let’s benchmark and use good regulations. Home owners deserve to be able to build casitas in order to house aging parents, set up business and art studios, have room for guests, or even make some needed money.
• “Corrales is a special place for not only those that live there, but for those that don't. I have lived in the Albuquerque area for most of my life, and Corrales is one of only a few remaining places in the metro area with a relaxed, rural lifestyle and appeal. Mega-homes (+4000 sf) should be restricted to mega-lots (3-acres plus) and multi-home dwellings should be resisted at all costs. But ‘casitas’ are hard to regulate without consistent inspections and enforcements which take resources. However, with folks consistently moving in from other areas of the country, and local developers looking to cash in on the Corrales appeal, more of the trendy casita concepts come with them; I fear casitas will contribute to ruining the village as they will bring in more people and therefore contribute to the impacts summarized in the above survey.”
• “A tasteful casita can be a beautiful addition to the already stunning homes we have in our village. The vast numbers of deteriorating and dilapidated mobile homes and yards filled with broken down vehicles directly impact the landscape of the village. Why aren’t these eyesores being targeted by the Village instead of a stunning, beautiful addition to someone's already gorgeous home? Homeowners that add a casita to their property most likely already have a very tasteful and properly maintained property. Why would they not maintain the upkeep, appearance and regulate how the property is utilized? Having a casita option for an elderly parent to maintain some semblance of independence, yet have the close support and help from a family member on the same property, is at the top of my list as to why casitas should be allowed.”
• “Property owners in Corrales have paid a premium to live in a semi-rural Village with wide open spaces. If people want higher density and/or sewer systems, paved roads and two or more dwellings per acre, they should move to Rio Rancho, Bernalillo or Albuquerque. The vast majority of residents were drawn to live and invest in Corrales because the Village Code guarantees the rural/semi-rural lifestyle and the ability to keep horses and livestock, farm and enjoy irreplaceable attributes such as dark skies and low density. This administration has done a disservice to the residents by repeatedly moving to make Corrales an over-built nightmare run by developers, real estate agents and newcomers who want to recreate whatever paved and over-developed paradise they left.”
• “There is no circumstance, for any reason, regardless of the size or the utility connection that we should allow any more casitas . By allowing what you have done to date is destroying the very reasons we moved to Corrales 25 years ago, and I am sure I am not alone when saying that. This is not a vacation destination for the sake of procuring gross receipts taxes. It is our home. This administration, as well as past administration, have destroyed the very essence of Corrales. Stop the construction of casitas.”
• “The village should be concerned about the need for multi-generational housing and provisions for live-in help for the elderly. Our demographics are changing, and I believe state law is more generous about the need to accessory dwelling units. Corrales should recognize that there should be allowances made for those who would like to care for elderly relatives or might need the care of younger relatives and the housing needs that would accommodate such needs.”
• “Limiting growth in population is a founding policy of the Village. Increased residential population is a losing proposition for the Village as the amount of tax revenue derived from residential properties does not cover the cost of the services residents demand. Unfortunately, when you couple this with our historic views on limiting commercial development in favor of increased residential development, it means the Village will always struggle to pay for the services residents require.”
• “I think that people should be able to build on their own property to accommodate the needs of their family. Some families have extended memberships of multi-generations and people should be able to make the best decisions for their families’ comfort. Not all casitas are used for commercial/financial gain, so maybe the questioning should be based on who is using the casitas.”