The Inn at Rio Rancho, circa 2020. Photo by Gary Herron.

The Rio Rancho Governing Body has allowed a partnership to move forward with turning the dilapidated Inn at Rio Rancho into unique apartments.

At their meeting Thursday night at City Hall, governing body members voted unanimously to approve a change in land-use zoning from special use for hotel/motel operations to special use for multi-family residential and retail commercial operations.

Councilors Bob Tyler and Paul Wymer complained that developers Tyler Gerard of Albuquerque and Lon Freeman of Corrales hadn’t provided enough written assurance that they’d follow through with their plans, but supported the zone change with an amendment attaching a detailed slide show to the site plan and specifying the partners couldn’t provide extended-stay motel services and must fence the property.

Gerard and Freeman are members of 528 Development, a group with real estate development and business experience now investing in the renovation of the Inn at Rio Rancho.

“All of our partners are local,” Freeman said. “This is our home. We love this area, this community.”

He quoted a New Mexico Mortgage Finance Authority report that indicated New Mexico lacks diversity in multi-family housing, which is part of the reason working young adults leave the state.

“Obviously, that’s a very complicated issue. We’re not saying this (project) solves that by any means, but it’s a piece of the puzzle,” Freeman said.

He said the remodeled inn would offer leases of at least a year. Using the property as a hotel and short-term rental facility failed as a business model, he said.

Gerard said the old inn is within a few miles, sometimes even walking distance, of medical care, entertainment, shopping and grocery stores. He said the remodeled facility would have 102 units of varying sizes, with rent starting at $700 a month.

“The feel that we really have and the benefit of this property is we’re going to have a casita feel —very, very unique,” he said.

Gerard said every unit would have a kitchen and wireless internet access. A few will even have Jacuzzis and gas fire places, he said.

The remodeled facility will have a pool, gym, movie theater, recreation room, co-working space and updated landscaping. The to-be-repaved parking lot must have 198 spaces.

The renovations would cost $3 million, and the partners have access to more money if something unexpected arose, Freeman said. He expects it to take 24 months to finish the work and have leases signed.

Freeman said the prior owner stopped doing basic maintenance as the business failed, and the facility attracted drug use and other bad behavior.

“When we took the property over, we found thousands of needles, just out in the parking lot area,” he said.

Now, Gerard said, a 6-foot fence with gates accessed via key fobs and codes would enclose the property.

Also, he said 15 security cameras now provide a 360-degree view of the property. Freeman said they’ve had 24-hour security since they took over the facility, and the city and police have helped clean up the place.

Wymer said the presentation answered a lot of questions, but the renovation details weren’t tied to the zoning and site plan.

“We want some assurance built into the project that what you’ve just said will actually occur,” he said.

Councilor Jeremy Lenentine said he knew young working people and married couples without kids who couldn’t find housing in Rio Rancho and so lived in Albuquerque, where their cars were broken into and they ended up hating the state. He said the redevelopment of the inn was needed.

Taking another perspective, Councilor Jim Owen said he’d like to see the redevelopment happen, but he wasn’t opposed to bulldozing the facility.

“And the reason I’m saying that is that’s a prime corner,” he said. “And from an economic development perspective, I’m not sure the best use is having apartments for young people.”

City planning manager Amy Rincon said the new zoning would allow owners to convert the entire property to commercial use in the future if desired.

Advocating for approving the zone change and participating remotely, Councilor Jennifer Flor said she found the project exciting.

“Personally, I’m very grateful and glad that we have people willing to invest in our community with the amount of effort and money it’s going to take to make this property economically viable,” she said. “…I have enough information to move forward on this.”

In other business, governing body members:

• Approved a zone change from R-1, the lowest-density single-family housing, to R-2, one step more dense than R-1, for several lots in Unit 10, south of Joe Harris Elementary;

• Approved refinancing of the bonds that paid to build the Rio Rancho Events Center, for an estimated savings of $870,000; and

• Approved a second reading of an ordinance allowing money from what had been the municipal environmental gross receipts tax to be used for general purposes.