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Our view: Delaying buffer amendments vote was unnecessary

We’re hard-pressed to see why five Rio Rancho Governing Body members declined to make a decision on straight-forward zoning ordinance amendments last week.

The amendments would change wall and landscaping buffer requirements between commercial and residential property from a one-size-fits-all approach to differing mandates depending on whether a road runs between the properties and how wide the road is. The changes also would set rules for outdoor storage, outdoor sales displays and truck and trailer rental yards in certain commercial districts.

Our view remains unchanged: The proposed new rules are business-friendly while adequately protecting residential property. Three weeks ago, it appeared most of the council agreed, approving a first reading of the amendments by a 5-1 vote.

However, city councilors postponed a vote on the second and final reading until May because three business community members — who otherwise said they would support the changes — complained about a single sentence of the non-conformance clause.

They expressed concern that because the clause said businesses “out of compliance with existing regulations” would have three years to comply with new regulations. This suggests that even businesses currently in compliance would need to make potentially expensive changes once the amendments were adopted and became “existing regulations” themselves.

That is certainly a legitimate concern; clarifying the status of existing businesses in this context is wise and proper. And that could have been done with a simple amendment at the governing body meeting.

But instead, most of the six city councilors started talking about how the amendments were confusing and about how the NAIOP commercial development organization was “blind-sided,” to use the NAIOP president’s term, because it had only found out about the proposed ordinance after the first reading.

NAIOP’s input is no doubt valuable, but we respectfully note the proposed amendments have been posted on the city website and have received a good amount media coverage — articles and editorials dealing with the subject have appeared eight times in the Observer alone since last December.

Moreover, none of the business people said the whole ordinance was confusing. The issue concerned one sentence.

The governing body sent the amendments back to staff for clarification once already, and expressed no confusion after reviewing the changes. We think staff, in fact, did a good job of writing understandable, fair amendments.

By refusing to make a decision, these leaders who prioritize being business-friendly are blocking one business of the benefits of this change: U-Haul, which currently endeavors to expand at a new location on Southern Blvd.

Surely, every governing body member is trying to do what’s best for the city. But further delaying approval of beneficial amendments to this ordinance was not in anyone’s best interest.