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City waits on buffer rules vote

RIO RANCHO, N.M. — The Rio Rancho Governing Body has postponed a decision on a buffer wall requirement, much to the frustration of a local businessman with a deal hanging on the matter.

At the meeting Wednesday, three business community members complained about the wording of a section of zoning ordinance amendments dealing with properties that conform to current regulations but not the amendments.

Then, city councilors voted 5-1 to wait until the first meeting in May to approve or disapprove a second and final reading of the changes. Outgoing Councilor Tim Crum cast the vote against waiting.

Development Services Director Dolores Wood has said city staff knew regulations dealing with buffers between commercial and residential property needed updating, but U-Haul’s desire to operate from a now-vacant lot at Southern Boulevard and Veranda Road brought the issue to the forefront.

U-Haul doesn’t want the now-required 6-foot wall because it would block the view of its rental trucks and trailers from the road. The company is hesitating to buy the property, owned by local businessman Clement “Perry” DeBonis until the height requirement is lessened.

DeBonis’ perspective

“I’m very upset,” DeBonis said of the councilors’ action.

He signed a contract with U-Haul for the purchase last April, but the company has postponed closing several times while trying to get buffer regulations changed.

DeBonis said if the governing body killed the ordinance amendments, he would sue the city for that and possibly for the properties out of compliance with existing ordinance, as well as suing U-Haul for not following through on the contract.

“I’m 80 years old. How long am I going to live? I want to retire,” he said.

The city is losing gross receipts tax revenue from the business that could be operating there and property tax revenue from improvements U-Haul would make to the lot, DeBonis said.

Proposed changes

Staff-recommended zoning ordinance amendments would:

  • Lighten buffer requirements so a 6-foot buffer wall between commercial and residential property would be required only when land shared a property line;
  • Allow outdoor sales displays and outdoor storage in certain commercial areas and require a buffer wall for outdoor storage;
  • Allow truck and trailer rental lots in certain commercial areas, under conditions set by the Planning and Zoning Commission;
  • Grandfather in businesses in compliance with current ordinance but not the proposed changes; and
  • Give businesses out of compliance with current mandates and amendments three years to comply.

“The proposed ordinance is based on significant research of existing codes, it is business-friendly and is fair and balanced,” Wood said.

Business comments

Lynne Andersen, president of NAIOP commercial development organization, said the group was “blind-sided” by the proposed amendments, learning of them only recently.

Since last December, eight news articles and editorials dealing with the proposed changes have appeared in the Observer.

“We actually don’t have any questions about the guts of the ordinance, the actual regulations,” Andersen said.

However, she said members were concerned about the non-conformance clause. The clause states that properties “out of compliance with existing regulations” would have to come into compliance in 36 months.

NAIOP representative Paul Wymer said members were concerned that once the amendments took effect, they would become “existing regulations” and so businesses would have to conform to new rules. He believes that language is confusing and in conflict with the ordinance as it is now.

Wymer agreed with the clause’s intent to grandfather in properties now in compliance and said NAIOP would support the amendments if the language was clarified.

Rio Rancho Regional Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Debbi Moore said the language could cause undue expense for businesses to update things now in compliance with regulations.

Councilors’ thoughts

Councilor Mark Scott said he would take into account Andersen and Wymer’s comments about being blind-sided and the amendment being confusing.

“So I’m very, very cautious about the entire document,” he said.

With a similar opinion, Councilor Lonnie Clayton said he wanted to vote the amendments down and give participants a chance to look at them. He said he didn’t want the relationship with NAIOP to slip.

Outgoing Mayor Tom Swisstack suggested postponing the vote on the amendments instead of voting “no” on them.

Other business

In other business, the governing body members:

  • Met new Santa Ana Star Center General Manager Shane Cadwell;
  • Approved a second and final reading of amendments to the Use of Public Right of Way ordinance to exempt city projects from certain fees and specify who fixes things that don’t conform to requirements;
  • Recognized firefighter Robert Mitchell and fire Capt. Aaron Garcia for 15 years of service with the city; children’s librarian Vaunda Nelson for 20 years; building maintenance employee Arthur Montoya for 25 years; and parks and facilities maintenance employee Fred Tice for 30 years of service; and
  • Appointed Charlene Spiegel and Connie Walsh to the Keep Rio Rancho Beautiful Committee.