LOS LUNAS — The residents of the historic town of Tomé are preparing to fight off commercial development projects that are coming at them from two directions.
During a two-hour meeting last Tuesday evening, many of the 60-plus residents in attendance expressed their objections to the possibility of two small-box retail stores being built along N.M. 47.
Rita Padilla-Gutierrez, the secretary for the town of Tomé Land Grant, explained the area’s long history to those gathered at the community center.
County administrators, as well as the two county commissioners who represent the area — Alicia Aguilar and Charles Eaton — and newly appointed planning and zoning commissioner Mike Milam, attended the meeting.
“There is a criticism against the people of Tomé that is unfair. We are not anti-progress, anti-business,” Padilla-Gutierrez said. “We are anti-someone coming in, taking land and reducing the greenbelt.
“We are driven by a sense of wanting to keep our history, our traditions, our culture.”
The projects are similar, but the process for each is very different.
One is a zone change from RR-2 to C-2 for a little more than two acres near N.M. 47 and Sedillo Drive.
If the change is granted, the proposed use is a for a 9,100-square-foot retail store. The application to the county does not indicate who the retailer would be.
Because it is a zone change, the application will go before the Planning and Zoning Commission at 4 p.m. Wednesday, March 27. The applicant is The Broadway Group of Huntsville, Ala.
The company is also requesting a zone change for another 9,100-square-foot retail space west of the river in Los Chavez.
The application there is for a zone change from C-1 to C-2 on 2.09 acres at 19720 N.M. 314, agricultural land north of the Los Chavez Fire Station.
The second project in Tomé is at 3110 N.M. 47, immediately south of Almost Anything Stored, a self-storage facility, near Menard Road.
At the community meeting, Valencia County Planner Jacobo Martinez said because the property is already zoned C-2, any development goes through an administrative process.
The developer has submitted a site plan, drainage and grading plans to the county and applied for building permits with the state construction industry division.
According to county zoning maps, the two lots at the corner of Menard and N.M. 47 abutting the highway were C-1 in 2004, but two years later, the 2006 map shows them both zoned C-2.
Martinez was not an employee of the county at that time and said he is researching the matter to find out when the zoning change was granted.
The property is owned by Traverse Development Tomé, a Denison, Texas, corporation. The site plan shows a 8,320-square-foot building for a Family Dollar on 1.08 acres.
No one in the audience liked the idea of dollar store-type retail establishments in the community.
“You have to look at what kind of people these places cater to,” one man said. “These places cater to people on food stamps. I guess it’s convenient to those who don’t work or have a car and need to walk to one.”
A woman who lives on Patricio Road said she is worried about the traffic dangers a store on Sedillo would bring. She said twice now she has been rear-ended while on Patricio waiting to turn onto N.M. 47.
The convergence of roads is basically a five-way intersection. To the east of the highway are Patricia and Romero roads. While they parallel each other, where they intersect with N.M. 47, the two roads are only a few feet apart.
On the west side of the road, Sedillo runs straight west from the highway, but Silva Road comes in from the northwest, intersecting with the highway and Sedillo, which amounts to little more than a wide spot south of the Tomé Art Gallery.
The woman said the proposed stores were smaller-box stores, not on par of Walmart in quality of goods offered.
“This is a national company selling junk,” she said.
“Chinese junk,” someone else in the audience interjected.
“I think this would be considered differently if it was a local business,” she said.
Her statement was greeted with a round of applause and cheers of approval.
Crystal Romero was born and raised in Tomé and her parents still live in a two story house south of the Sedillo Road property.
“I have a 2-year-old son. I want him to grow up where I was raised,” Romero said.
She paused, overwhelmed by emotion.
“I don’t want a Family Dollar store next door. I’ve seen the type of people who go into these stores — criminals and lowlifes. Criminals target these kinds of stores. There’s no security. They are usually in a rural area with no police response.”
With two of the five county commissioners at the meeting, several residents pressed Eaton and Aguilar on whether they would ultimately vote for or against the zone change.
“I think there is proper zoning elsewhere that is not in the village of Tomé,” Eaton said, standing to address the audience. “I have a hard time supporting a zone change this close to an historic area.
“I ran for office again because I felt property owners in the past were unfairly treated. Everyone should be afforded due process, especially when they have a priority interest in a property. This goes deep.”
“So are you going on the record that you will vote no?” a man in the audience asked.
Eaton didn’t give a verbal response, but nodded as he took his seat.
Aguilar said she understood the residents’ concerns and took them to heart.
“But I would never put myself in a position where I could be disqualified to vote, by having already made a decision,” Aguilar said.
In a phone interview, Eaton said he strongly believes in the position of the people who are trying to protect their interest in the historic value of the community.
“I know that gentleman was pushing for a yes or no. I never said no,” Eaton said. “You can draw whatever conclusion you want on it, but I never said yes or no.
“I voiced the opinion that I would like to preserve agriculture in the valley. This does have an impact. That kind of indicates where I’m going with it.”
During the meeting, several people raised the objection that Eaton’s appointee to the planning and zoning commission, local contractor Brandon Jaramillo, who, they said, would have a conflict of interest when the Sedillo Road project comes to P&Z for a recommendation on the zone change.
“Doesn’t it upset you that a guy on P&Z builds these things?” one man asked. “It’s a conflict of interest.”
Jaramillo did not attend the meeting last week.
In a phone interview, Jaramillo said he didn’t attend the meeting in Tomé because he didn’t think it was “appropriate to talk about specific issues at a meeting like that, outside of a P&Z meeting.”
Eaton said he spoke with Jaramillo and expressed his “disappointment” in his absence.
Jaramillo said he doesn’t see any conflict of interest in him hearing the zone change request from The Broadway Group.
For people to understand his lack of conflict, Jaramillo said, they need to understand how projects like this are typically developed.
“A company like Dollar General or Family Dollar does its research and says it wants to build a store, usually within a mile or so of a given intersection,” he said.
That project is announced and developers bid for the chance to build the new store, he said. The developer purchases property in the desired area, hires contractors and builds the store.
“The developer owns the land and the building and has a long-term lease agreement with the store,” Jaramillo said. “I’m sure the process for these is the same.”
Jaramillo was involved in the building of the Dollar General in Rio Communities that opened a few years ago, he said. He became involved with the project when the realtor who sold the property sent the out-of-state developer, Southern Development, a list of local contractors, including Jaramillo.
“When the developer came to New Mexico, I met with him, we drove the site and I recommended some local subcontractors,” Jaramillo said.
His company, B Jar Construction, completed the dirt work, framing drywall and concrete block work for the job.
Through Southern Development, Jaramillo said he also worked on two other Dollar Generals — one in Albuquerque and a second in Colorado.
“I didn’t work for Dollar General; I worked for the developer,” he said. “During those three projects, I saw someone from Dollar General on a site once for about 15 minutes. They really weren’t involved with the building and development of the project.”
Jaramillo said he has not bid on nor will he bid for work on either of the projects in Tomé.
“I haven’t bid and I’m not planning to, given the situation. I haven’t worked for either of these developers before,” he said. “If it was Southern coming in, then yes, I would have a prior relationship.”
As the meeting in Tomé wound down, people wanted to know what they could do to stop the two projects and others in the future.
Aguilar told the crowd one way to have more control over its community was to petition for the formation of a special district.
“Our zoning ordinance allows for a special district with a governing board,” she said. “Any development would come through them.”
Charlie Sanchez, a Tomé resident who lives across the street from the proposed Sedillo Road project, said the most immediate concern was the other development near Menard Road.
“We need to look at a moratorium of some kind. That’s an immediate threat,” Sanchez said.
Aguilar advised the group to come before the county commission and ask how to begin the process of implementing a special district and imposing a moratorium in the area until the zone was established.
The discussion of a special district and moratorium in the Tomé/Adelino area is on the agenda for discussion for today’s county commission meeting.