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Zoning spurs competition

RIO RANCHO, N.M. — Development professionals say changes to Rio Rancho’s planning and zoning ordinance that councilors approved this week will help the city be more competitive with Albuquerque in attracting new projects.

The changes, which must be approved at a second reading, affect residential, commercial and industrial development.

“This is a good move, a very progressive move in terms of trying to get new employers and new jobs,” Karen Marcotte, the former chair of NAIOP, the commercial real estate industry association, told councilors.

Ordinance sponsor Councilor Chuck Wilkins, said it offers businesses and developers greater flexibility while preserving the overall quality of life for residents.

Wilkins and city staff worked with representatives from local businesses and business organizations, NAIOP and HBA, formerly known as the Home Builders Association of Central New Mexico, in crafting the measure.

NAIOP president Lynne Andersen said the new ordinance is more in tune with current market needs and makes it “easier for us to convince clients to look at Rio Rancho in lieu of other cities.”

Among the most significant changes were:

♦ Increasing the maximum permitted height of a building in a commercial area from 32 feet to 50 feet, or 78 feet with approval from the city’s planning and zoning board;

♦ Increasing the maximum height of buildings in industrial areas from 32 feet to 100 feet; and

♦ Giving greater flexibility on required lot size for new residential properties.

“This is a dramatic change in the zoning ordinance,” Marcotte told councilors on Wednesday.

She said it could enable Rio Rancho to evolve from a low-density bedroom community into a destination more attractive to business and industry.

But she was troubled by a requirement that multifamily dwellings could only be allowed in commercial mixed-use areas if they were above the first floor.

Marcotte said the concept of living above a retail store or business isn’t common in New Mexico. However, having apartments or other multifamily dwellings close to commercial developments, such as the apartments next to Trader Joe’s in Albuquerque’s Uptown, has proved popular, she said.

“Commerce needs residential density to survive,” she said.

Acting City Manager Jim Babin said Rio Rancho has had to “guard its commercial areas” because of its antiquated platting that divided most of the city into acre and half-acre lots.

He said the city tried unsuccessfully to get the law changed to restore the power of eminent domain it had prior to 2007 which enabled developers to assemble large properties for projects like Cabezon.

Wilkins and Councilors Mark Scott, Lonnie Clayton and Tim Crum approved the ordinance, Councilors Tamara Gutierrez and Patty Thomas were opposed.

Gutierrez and Thomas shared city staff concerns about changes that increased the size of accessory buildings allowed to be built on residential lots and the amount of recreational space required at apartment complexes.

Gutierrez thought the accessory building change would open the door to renters, she also thought the recreational space requirement was too small.
— This article appeared on page 30 of the Albuquerque Journal