Rio Rancho Governing Body members voted 5-1 to decline to allow construction of an apartment complex for families with children, senior citizens and workers meeting certain income criteria near Loma Colorado and Northern boulevards.
City Councilor Paul Wymer cast the sole vote in favor of the 219-unit Tirol Housing LLC project at the virtual meeting Thursday night. Councilor Karissa Culbreath was absent, so Mayor Gregg Hull could vote.
Jim Strozier of Consensus Planning and Casey Cameron of Tirol Housing applied for a land-use zoning change from special use for retail to multi-family housing for the 9.7 acres north of Lowe’s on Loma Colorado Boulevard.
“There is a need in Rio Rancho for affordable housing,” said city Planning Manager Amy Rincon.
She said a 2017 Fair Housing Assessment called out Rio Rancho on that shortage. Hull later said he would recommend budgeting for a long-term affordable housing plan next fiscal year.
Cameron said the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit the apartments would use isn’t related to Section 8 subsidized housing, and tenants would have to have income meeting certain criteria.
Maximum limits would have ranged from $29,040 a year or $13.96 an hour for one person, to $41,460 a year or $19.93 an hour for a family of four, to $51,420 a year or $24.72 an hour for a family of seven, according to the presentation. For minimum income, tenants would have had to make enough that the rent didn’t take up more than 30 percent of their income.
Cameron said jobs paying within those boundaries include licensed practical nurses, firefighters, Hewlett Packard IT support personnel and Lowe’s sales specialists. The program doesn’t cover people experiencing homelessness, disability or intense poverty.
Residents across Loma Colorado Boulevard from the proposed site vehemently opposed the plan, saying it would hurt their safety, property values, quality of life and their children’s education.
Wymer said potential tenants include police, firefighters and teachers.
“Are we saying they’re not valuable to our community? There needs to be a starting point,” he said, adding that people in such jobs are valuable even if they don’t make a lot of money.
Diamond Ridge Home Owners Association President Nick Nelson, also an Albuquerque Police officer, said his experience is that affordable housing and Section 8 housing are the same thing as far as crime. Property crime in particular increases in areas with such housing within two or three years, he said.
Nelson said he was worried about apartment residents being able to watch his children in the house or backyard.
With the proposed complex, he believed HOA fees would rise because residents would have to look at gating the neighborhood.
Cameron said tenants would go through a criminal background check. If anyone in a prospective household, including minors, used illegal drugs, had been convicted of any violent crime or had any felony charge on their record, the household wouldn’t be allowed into the complex.
“Just because this is going to be affordable does not mean any increase to the level of crime than a market-rate apartment complex,” he said.
Cholla Drive resident Jennifer Wilcox said her problem with the plan was her children’s safety. She said there was no sidewalk for them to walk to Rio Rancho Middle School, and water and mud washed into the street after rains.
Wilcox also said middle school parents waiting to pick up their children caused traffic congestion, lining their cars up on Arapaho Drive, and her son had nearly been hit by vehicles. More people would mean worse traffic and area schools are already packed, she said.
Cameron and Strozier said Tirol would widen Loma Colorado Boulevard, fix the drainage and erosion issues and pay for a sidewalk or bike trail to Huron Drive for children walking to RRMS. The developers expected to pay more than $1.1 million in impact fees to fund infrastructure to handle the increased population.
Strozier said city staff members reached out to Rio Rancho Public Schools for input, and the short note he received said RRPS was concerned about increased traffic. Strozier said developing 20 percent of the Loma Colorado site for retail would likely generate five times the traffic as an apartment complex would.
“Anytime any vacant piece of property is developed, you will increase the traffic on the adjacent road,” he said.
Councilor Jeremy Lenentine said RRPS doesn’t always oppose development, so it was a problem if the district didn’t support the apartments.
Bentgrass Meadows resident Mitch McCarthy, an engineer at Intel, said neighborhoods like Loma Colorado draw in “the highest-skilled people.”
Monte Vista Drive resident Reyna Smith said the apartment complex would “definitely dampen that spirit and that community vibe” Loma Colorado has.
“So I just want to reiterate that I am completely opposed to items 9 and 10, for the safety of our children, for our community, for our property values, and just to go over what everybody else has been saying, as far as keeping the community a community and a great place to live, and to strive to want to be better and, like the gentleman said from Intel, to bring those type of people into our communities and to just make Rio Rancho a better place to live,” Smith said.
Hull said he understood residents’ passion and was trying to be empathetic. But, he continued, under Loma Colorado speakers’ standards, he and his wife wouldn’t have been welcome in Rio Rancho initially.
“Make no mistake, the people who serve us each and every day should never be treated like the people we escort out the back door when we’re done with them at the end of the day,” Hull said. “It’s just not right. We should all get to have levels of opportunity.”
He said the question was if the site was the best place for the apartments. After opposing the zone change, he said the city could find another way to work with Strozier and Cameron.

This map shows the proposed site of affordable apartments, in the green-outlined triangle. It is currently zoned as special use. Courtesy of the City of Rio Rancho.

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