RIO RANCHO, N.M. — Picture, if you can, a multi-story apartment complex in Rio Rancho.
Say it has over 350 dwelling units — like the mixed-income apartments that loom over my back yard in Enchanted Hills. Now imagine a laundromat abutting the apartments.
It provides self-service washers and dryers for the families living nearby. It also serves as a social gathering spot for neighbors waiting for their household linens to launder and dry.
Now imagine that the laundromat goes out of business, deteriorates into an eyesore and becomes a magnet for vagrancy and petty crime. The apartment dwellers and other neighborhood residents — who have lost a vital service and a favorite gathering spot — loudly demand that the city acquire the property, restore the laundry service and take over its operation and maintenance.
What would be city government’s and city taxpayers’ reactions? “Negative” is likely an understatement.
And yet, for most of the years I’ve lived in Rio Rancho, homeowners within a several-block radius of the former Chamisa Hills Country Club have demanded the same socialistic solution from the city and its taxpayers.
So how is the laundromat’s demise any different from the decline and eventual bankruptcy of a privately owned golf course and country club?
The most obvious difference is that residents near the golf course occupy higher-value homes and likely fall higher on the income scale than our fictional apartment and middle-market home occupants in northern Enchanted Hills. The former wield far more economic and political power — and probably greater media savvy — than some in lower income brackets.
Several would-be developers have proposed to rebuild on the golf course property with new homes, limited commercial development and recreational use. Their plans were thwarted by threats of lawsuits from property owners, most notably the “North Nine” residents’ group.
The current golf club property owner, Land Development 2 LLC, has now offered to “donate” unusable portions of the golf course to the city for development and operation as “open space.”
In a somewhat petulant letter to Rio Rancho’s mayor and city councilors, LD2 promotes its “charitable donation” as a fix for an estimated $15 million to $20 million property value paper loss to homeowners.
The LD2 letter further blames city reused-water pricing for the failure of past country club ventures. The letter also argues that city plans for open space in the City Center set a precedent that fits the country club scenario.
In reality, City Center is developing as a region-wide health-care and technical business hub, with an economic impact far greater than anything possible in the golf course residential area.
Whatever civic and sentimental value proponents assign to “saving” the unusable country club land, our mayor and council have made clear that the price is too steep — and could be far better spent on public safety or roads, top-rated priorities in a citizen survey conducted earlier this year.
I applaud the mayor and council for upholding the “needs” of all city taxpayers versus the “wants” of a privileged few.