City discusses park deal

From left, Mayor Gregg Hull reads a Navy Week proclamation while Navy veteran and City Councilor Bob Tyler and Navy members Rear Admiral Mark E. Bipes, Lt. Kathleen Smith and Petty Officer 2nd Class Rob Toler listen at the Rio Rancho Governing Body meeting Wednesday. Last week was Navy week around the nation, and Bipes, Smith and Toler toured Rio Rancho and Albuquerque as part of the observance.

After a year of negotiations, the City of Rio Rancho and AMREP Southwest haven’t reached an agreement to speed up installation of a park.

At the Rio Rancho Governing Body meeting Wednesday at City Hall, governing body members voted to postpone a decision on the issue until their Sept. 26 meeting, hoping to reach a resolution by then. The vote was unanimous, with City Councilor Jim Owen absent due to a medical emergency in his family and Mayor Gregg Hull voting because of his absence.

The issue centers around a park planned for the Lomas Encantadas development just south of Enchanted Hills in City Council District 6. Under the development agreement AMREP and the city inked in 2005, said AMREP’s attorney Matthew Spangler, the developer would build two parks with timing based on when certain numbers of homes were sold. However, since the Great Recession, homes have sold much more slowly than AMREP expected in 2005.

Last year, the city asked AMREP to develop a park sooner than the development agreement requires, because Lomas Encantadas residents had been asking for one.

Spangler said AMREP wanted impact fee credits to make up for the value for building a particular $400,000 park now rather than in an estimated 16 years. He expects a different park to be built in the area in five to eight years.

Impact fees are fees developers pay the city to cover the cost of large improvements needed to provide infrastructure and public services to new developments. If developers pay for such improvements instead of leaving them for the city to do, they receive impact fee credits instead of paying impact fees.

The developer can then sell those credits to other developers, who can use them to lessen their own impact fees.

The proposed agreement involves complicated details, and Spangler and the city Development Services Department don’t agree on it. Development Services Director Anthony Caravella said if the city approved Spangler’s proposal, it would lose out on impact fee revenue.

District 6 City Councilor David Bency called the disagreement ridiculous and said a compromise needed to be reached soon.

“There are people in Lomas Encantadas who need some quality of life other than dirt to look at,” he said.

City Manager Keith Riesberg said the city staff wanted to consolidate parks and expand the Sports Complex to make it easier to maintain the park space instead of getting a new park in Lomas Encantadas.

Hull said that after asking a lot of questions, he still didn’t know the value of the impact fee credits, but he suspected AMREP’s proposal could cost the taxpayer a million dollars or multiple millions in the long run. He said Lomas Encantadas would eventually get the already-planned park, even if it wasn’t immediately.

“I think we’re selling the farm to get this done, and it’s not equitable to the rest of the city of Rio Rancho, which this will ultimately impact,” Hull said.

AMREP and the city have paid for a lot of staff time with the negotiations over the past year, he said.

“I love parks. I think Lomas Encantadas needs a park,” Hull said.

However, he continued, the proposed agreement isn’t a good way to get one.

Spangler said AMREP had been paying park impact fees higher than the current rate because of agreements made when impact fees were higher.

“I don’t think it’s one-sided,” he said of the proposed agreement.

In other business, governing body members:

• Approved greater requirements for landscape buffers between different types of land use for Unit 10, in the Westside Boulevard and Wellspring Avenue area;

• Approved a corridor overlay zone for Westside and Wellspring to adopt regulations for future access control and right-of-way to align intersections in the area;

• Heard City Councilor Bob Tyler say he believed straight-party voting encouraged partisan politics. New Mexico Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver had put straight-ticket options on the ballot for November, but the state Supreme Court ruled against it;

• Told staff to pursue hiring national executive recruitment firm Peckham McKenney to find a replacement for Riesberg, who has given notice that he’s leaving to take a job in Colorado.

• Appointed Bill White and Ellen Herrera to the Parks and Recreation Commission.