Jason Romero bought a property in Española in the spring, and he can’t do anything with it.
Romero’s 8,842-square-feet lot, at 801 Middle San Pedro Road, is zoned for commercial use even though it was occupied with a mobile home in the past. That “legal nonconforming use” of the property was allowed, and surrounding properties have also been used for housing despite their designations for commercial use.
Six months after the mobile home was removed from the lot, however, the property was bound to its original zoning designation. In the case of his small parcel of land, Romero said it cannot be used for commercial development either, because it is too small. It doesn’t meet the 12,500-square-feet requirement for its own zoning designation.
“Because of the property, the requirements for a commercial lot do not apply,” Romero said. “My big concern is that the city is inhibiting our rights.”
In October 2020, the City of Española brought forth a request to re-zone seven properties on Middle San Pedro Road that included 801. The properties had all been zoned as B-2 General Commercial District in 1976 with the establishment of the city zoning map.
At the Oct. 8, 2020 Planning and Zoning Commission meeting then-city planner Alison Gillette presented the request to re-zone these properties to R-6 Residential Use to reflect the existing and historical use of the area.
“This has been a long time coming,” she said of the request. “This [original zoning] was regardless of the size or use of the properties. Back then, they just drew a 600-foot line from South Riverside Drive and said, ‘everything from here over is now B-2,’ which is our highest-density and -intensity commercial zoning use.”
According to the city’s 2017 Comprehensive Plan, only 30 percent of the 1,000 acres zoned for commercial use were actually being used that way in reality. The award-winning plan states, “The land area designated for commercial zoning should be reduced to better reflect what is on the ground as well as address market realities.”
Gillette also noted that without any re-zoning, the property at 801 would be essentially useless.
At that October 2020 meeting, Jose Archuleta, owner of one of the lots slotted for re-zoning, expressed his concerns with the plan. He was concerned about seeing multi-family housing in the neighborhood as well as any re-zoning that would affect his ability to consolidate two adjacent properties that he owned. He said that he did not consent to the city’s re-zoning request.
“The whole deal is that, if I wanted to re-zone my property, I would apply,” Archuleta said. “I wouldn’t expect staff to apply for me, and that’s what’s happening here today.”
Planning Commissioner Erle Wright put forth a motion to recommend denial of the request, saying it was not “fully thought through,” though he said he would have supported the re-zoning request if there had been notarized affidavits of consent from owners of the seven properties.
More than a year later, the property at 801 Middle San Pedro Road and its neighboring lots are still designated as a commercial zone.
In July, Romero submitted a request for a variance. The Planning and Zoning Commission — now led by City Planner Muhammad Hussain — “did not have any satisfactory solution for the property owner,” according to a memorandum from Nov. 4. A variance still would not allow Romero to use the property for residential purposes — which Gillette warned about last October. Hussain gave a recommendation for approval of re-zoning the property.
At the city council meeting on Nov. 9, Jose Archuleta — the adjacent property owner — said that he had not received proper notice of the discussion happening before the council and that there wasn’t an official recommendation from the Planning Commission.
His daughter, Milena Archuleta, said, “I would like to implore our new Planning and Zoning Director, Mr. Hussein, to educate himself a little bit further on this property and the problems we have had with the zoning in this community in terms of being basically intermixed residential and commercial.”
Councilor John Ricci expressed concern over “spot zoning,” re-zoning for a use incompatible with surrounding uses, and the council struck the item from the agenda until there was a recommendation from the Planning Commission, complete with public commentary.
“We are all in agreement that there are bigger zoning issues,” Romero said, “but making a decision on this property is not going to inhibit or block any development. We want to keep the same use, which is residential. This shouldn’t be a property that keeps getting punted down the road.”
He plans to seek a re-zone at the next Planning and Zoning meeting in December, and he believes there will be many more cases like his that expose how problematic the city’s zoning can be.
Hussain feels a re-zone is the only solution for 801 Middle San Pedro Road.
“There is an inconsistency between what is planned and what is on the ground,” Hussain said on a phone call. “The city was not planned. It just happened.”