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  • Some residents plan to continue to fight against it

A 10-acre, 216-unit apartment complex, which some call low-income housing and others call workforce housing, came closer to reality when the board of Rio Rancho, by a vote of 5 to 1, approved the initial site plan application for the project at its August 11 meeting.

Opponents and supporters of the Sandoval Flats project, slated to be in the Vista Entrada area, showed up at Thursday’s meeting to share their views with the Board.

Even before Maida Rubin, director of the Planning and Zoning Division, addressed the body, Mayor Gregg Hull, perhaps expecting a more controversial crowd, carefully laid out the rules that attendees were to follow to ensure civility and decorum:

  • Limit the conversation to the sitemap;
  • Does the site plan comply with Rio Rancho ordinances;
  • And is the sitemap legal.

Once Hull was done with the settings, Rubin provided a brief history of the project, dating back to 2009.

At that time, residents opposed the project and sued the City of Rio Rancho and landowner Alto Bonito, LLC. Instead of going to court, the parties reached a settlement agreement that set restrictions on how the land could be developed. These restrictions included maximum building heights and density and required any future developer, in this case Dominium Development, to notify residents by mail 30 days before submitting a site plan.

The project’s proponents, including Dominium Vice President and Project Planner Ron Mehr, have consistently explained how Sandoval Flats met or exceeded each of the restrictions established by the settlement agreement.

For example, the Agreement provided for the construction of no more than 320 dwellings with a maximum height of 42 feet. The Sandoval Flats project will be limited to 216 units with a maximum height of 40 feet.

Other proponents of the project, including attorney Matt Spangler who helped draft the 2009 settlement agreement, have spoken at length about the need for affordable housing in Rio Rancho.

Helene Apper, a resident of Vista Entrada and one of the signatories to the 2009 agreement, argued that her objection to the development had nothing to do with being against affordable housing. She just wanted the project done right and said she never got notice from Dominium. Additionally, Apper argued that the apartment buildings would be taller than 40 feet due to dirt being brought onto the lot.

Another Vista Entrada resident, Meaghan Ellsworth, also had no objection to the type of complex the project was, saying, “I don’t care if it’s labor or affordable housing, the problem is that the master plan was made in 2009.”

She urged the body to vote no until the studies are more recent and a traffic study can be updated.

City Manager Matt Geisel later explained that traffic studies are done during the construction phase and not during site plan approval.

The vote to approve the site plan was 5 in favour, with Councilor Bob Tyler voting against.

Reached later for comment, Apper said she and other residents would continue to fight the Sandoval Flats project.