APS wants to place bus depot in rural paradise

It all felt so secretive.

Last fall, in this quiet East Mountain neighborhood along Rincon Loop, Misty Kuzior’s horses were agitated by drones circling the 13-acre field just below her property. She confronted the people flying them. They refused to tell her why they were there, she said.

In late January, Allyson and David Laing noticed people collecting core samples in the same field. This time, the people were more forthcoming.

What the Laings learned shocked them. As word spread, other neighbors were shocked as well — and then they were mobilized.

“That’s how we found out that Albuquerque Public Schools planned to build a bus depot here,” Allyson Laing said. “It just blindsided us. And I can tell you, nobody wants it here.”

In November 2019, voters approved a $290 million mill levy and bond package for APS construction projects and other improvements, including three school bus depots — one on the West Side, one in the southwest and one in the East Mountains.

The latter will accommodate 50 buses, a bus wash, maintenance bay, fuel station, offices and an 80-space parking lot. It will save money, APS officials say, because buses now maintained in Albuquerque will be closer to East Mountain routes.

But until late last month, few Rincon Loop residents knew that APS planned to locate that depot at Shady Oak Circle and North Zamora, in their neighborhood and on top of the aquifer that supplies water to many residents.

“I found out on NextDoor, and that’s kind of sad,” said Amy Owen, whose family moved to the area about five years ago.

Neighbors questioned why there had been no public comment meeting or outreach to explain the project. They wondered how APS could locate a bus depot on land zoned as “rural agricultural.” They wondered what had happened to the 1989 covenant variance in which APS agreed to set aside the 13 acres it had purchased “for future development as an elementary school.”

They worried about fuel and chemical leaks contaminating their fragile aquifer, and about the noise and the pollutants from so many buses. About light pollution. About traffic congestion. About property values. About the aesthetics of a bus depot in their mountain community.

About why here. About why not somewhere else.

“We came here to get away from things like bus depots,” Daniel Dunn said during a Zoom meeting Thursday. “I’m just a little livid.”

But the neighbors say they’re not about to take their outrage lying down. They formed a special web page, phone tree and NextDoor page to share information. They launched a petition that so far has more than 500 signatures. They contacted lawyers, Bernalillo County Commissioner Charlene Pyskoty, media folks like me. They researched other sites, including a 23-acre parcel owned by APS, 2 miles to the west and right off the interstate at the Cedar Crest turnoff.

For Thursday’s Zoom meeting, they invited school board member Elizabeth Armijo and an APS representative.

Armijo, citing confusion over time zones, showed up two hours late but promised to take the neighbors’ concerns back to the board. No one from APS, save for a woman taking notes, showed.

Teddy Owen takes in the view of the Rincon Loop neighborhood from a ridge above the small community in the East Mountains. Albuquerque Public Schools plans to build a depot for as many as 50 buses just to the left of his view. (Courtesy of Amy Owen)

Before the meeting, however, I spoke with Kizito Wijenje, executive director of the APS Capital Master Plan Department.

Wijenje said APS officials had not reached out to neighbors because they didn’t know whom to reach out to since Rincon Loop has no neighborhood association. He said APS had reached out to Pyskoty and the mayor of Tijeras.

But Rincon Loop is not within Tijeras village limits, and commission assistant Joe Noriega said it was his office that contacted APS officials, not the other way around, and not until last month.

Wijenje said that because APS is its own quasi-government, it does not have to abide by zoning regulations and other restrictions. Concerning the 1989 covenant variance, he said, land use is never specifically predetermined.

That 23-acre plot at Cedar Crest? That’s been predetermined for a future high school, he said.

Regarding environmental concerns, Wijenje called the project green. It will use solar panels, a water recycling system, outdoor LED lighting directed downward and wiring for future electric buses. Spills and leaks will be stopped by paving and concrete flooring.

As for aesthetics, Wijenje scoffed, noting that a county transfer station is across the interstate from the neighborhood and that the state Department of Transportation storage facility is to the west.

But that’s not how folks along Rincon Loop see it. Talk to anybody here, and they’ll tell you how beautiful it is, how lucky they are to have found their mountain heaven home.

And, yes, Allyson Laing can see the transfer station across the interstate from her driveway. But what she notices more is the clusters of cedar, juniper and piñon dotting the hillsides, the melody of wild birds, the cry of coyotes, the un-citiness of Rincon Loop.

“We moved here in 1998,” she said. “We love the peace and quiet. We love looking at the stars at night. It’s a wonderful place to live.”

I hope it remains that way.

UpFront is a front-page news and opinion column.

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