At their first regularly scheduled work session on Tuesday Rio Rancho councilors hashed out differing opinions about city area plans, holding their own team-building retreat and allowing responses to comments during the public forum portion of their meetings.
Work sessions provide a setting where councilors can discuss topics and listen to comments but do not take formal action.
Development Services Director Dolores Wood told councilors that staffers have begun revising several of the city’s more than one dozen area plans to consolidate or remove items that are duplicated in either the city’s more broad ranging comprehensive plan or its zoning ordinance.
Councilors Chuck Wilkins, Mark Scott and Shelby Smith believe the area plans are too restrictive and complex which can slow the progress of a development.
“What we have now is as slow as death. It’s hard to get business in here,” Smith said.
Mayor Gregg Hull indicated he wants to see the current plan structure streamlined to help encourage more commercial development.
Jeanie Springer Knight of Springer5 Investments, which is developing Unser Pavilion business plaza near the Rust Medical Center, said she was encouraged by the council’s focus on the area plan issue. She said developers want the plans to be consistent and simpler.
She also stressed the need to look at identifying large tracts of land for commercial use instead of the current pattern of small “one-off” developments.
Springer Knight was one of about half a dozen developers who spoke at the work session.
City Manager Keith Riesberg said he would direct staff to prepare a report on what they have done so far to revise the area plans. The report would give councilors a benchmark from which they could evaluate how to proceed, Riesberg said.
Riesberg then talked about holding a governing body retreat where councilors and the mayor could have open discussions that would enable them to better understand each other’s leadership style. Riesberg proposed holding the retreat in a neutral setting away from City Hall and spending about $5,000 to hire a facilitator to guide the process.
The proposal drew sharply differing responses.
Councilors Smith, Lonnie Clayton and Dawnn Robinson and the mayor supported the idea. Hull read a comment from Councilor Cheryl Everett who was absent from the session, also in support.
Wilkins and Scott were opposed.
“I think we’re all grown ups here. We all can talk to each other,” Wilkins said. “I don’t think we need to spend $5,000 to have somebody else help me feel better.”
Councilors will likely vote on a resolution pertaining to the retreat at their next meeting.
Hull then introduced the topic of allowing councilors to respond to comments made in the public forum. The forum is a period during council meetings, before councilors start discussing agenda items, when members of the public can make comments, complaints or raise concerns. Councilors currently do not respond.
Hull was concerned that allowing councilors to respond could make meetings last much longer. He wanted to establish time limits and rules of decorum.
Smith, Wilkins, Scott and Robinson supported allowing responses. Robinson wanted guidelines. Scott was against including restrictions.
“Keep it simple,” Scott said. “Don’t add a bunch of burdensome rules.”