New Aztec comprehensive plan could lead to many changes over next 20 years

Document scheduled to go before City Commission on June 22

Mike Easterling
Farmington Daily Times
Mayor Victor Snover addresses the crowd at a public meeting on June 3 outside the 550 Brewing Taproom in Aztec as residents gathered to hear the details of the city's new draft comprehensive plan.
  • The Albuquerque-based planning firm Consensus Planning was hired by the city of Aztec to lead the process of updating the plan.
  • Work on the update began in June 2020.
  • The updated plan is designed to guide development in Aztec for the next 20 years.

AZTEC — Several dozen Aztec residents gathered in the courtyard outside the 550 Brewing Taproom on the evening of June 3 to receive an in-depth presentation on the city's draft comprehensive plan update, a document that could lead to the city becoming larger, more densely developed and home to a more diverse economy.

Jackie Fishman — one of the principals at Consensus Planning, the Albuquerque-based planning firm that was hired by the city of Aztec to lead the process of updating the plan — delivered a 60-minute presentation that guided those in attendance through the plan's 11 chapters, which include seven goals and the strategies for implementing them.

They also heard about the challenges Aztec faces as a community and how those issues have impacted the current state of the city.

The June 3 public meeting was the last step in the development of the plan before it is scheduled to go before the Aztec City Commission on June 22 for approval. Work on the update began in June 2020, and the updated plan is designed to guide development in Aztec for the next 20 years.

That doesn't mean everything residents heard about at the meeting is destined to be implemented or followed blindly, Mayor Victor Snover told them before Fishman began her presentation.

"It's a living, breathing document," he said. "It's not carved in stone tablets. It can be changed. This will lay out a strong road map for us to follow."

Jackie Fishman

Fishman said the plan covers eight major elements — land use, economic development, hazard mitigation, transportation, infrastructure, community services and facilities, parks and recreation, and housing and neighborhoods. But a handful of those topics commanded most of the attention during the presentation, especially land use.

She pointed out that one of the plan's higher priorities is to address the large amount of vacant land and the unbalanced land use inventory within the city limits.

"You've got a lot of vacant land in Aztec, but you don't have a lot of room to grow," she said.

To remedy that, plan developers are proposing two strategies — making a strong commitment to promote infill development and potentially annexing several hundred acres split among five plots. To achieve the former, Fishman said the city would need to pursue public-private partnerships, especially in the downtown district that is the focus of much of the plan.

Aztec residents listen as the city's community development director, Steven Saavedra, speaks during a public meeting on June 3 outside the 550 Brewing Taproom about the town's new comprehensive plan.

Steven Saavedra, Aztec's community development director and assistant city manager, said after the meeting the city has tried those public-private partnerships only on a limited basis in the past. He is hopeful that approach could bear fruit.

"It's my opinion we have not maximized it," he said.

One of the things Aztec has going for it, he said, is the fact that it owns its electric utility. The city might establish a partnership with a private developer, he said, by offering those parties utility extensions to reduce the cost of a redevelopment project.

"That provides opportunities other cities don't have," he said.

As for annexation, Saavedra noted that Aztec already has employed that approach a fair amount in the past. But the five plots targeted in the updated plan – which range in size from a mere 8 acres to 645 acres – are located on all sides of the city and have been chosen for specific reasons.

Fishman said one such plot, for instance, would allow an "island" of Aztec city property – that is, a section of the city that is not physically connected to the rest of the town – to become contiguous.

But Saavedra said even if the draft version of the plan update is approved by the City Commission, Aztec is a long way from annexing those properties. He said any move in that direction would undergo an extensive cost-benefit analysis first.

In other words, if the annexation of those properties can't be demonstrated to provide tangible economic, logistical and other advantages to the city, it won't be pursued, he said.

Displays highlighting some aspects of the new draft comprehensive plan for the city of Aztec greeted visitors at a public meeting on June 3 outside the 550 Brewing Taproom.

Fishman said the annexation of the properties is necessary to allow for gradual and orderly growth in Aztec.

Fishman also emphasized the need for Aztec to build an economy that is not so narrowly focused — a goal shared by communities throughout San Juan County, which has relied heavily on fossil fuels industries for the last three-quarters of a century. Like other communities in the county, Aztec is moving toward maximizing its outdoor recreation-related opportunities.

Fishman said the plan emphasizes the importance of workforce training and education, especially among the town's young people.

Other highlights of the plan include:

• The establishment of new arterial connections to help with traffic flow

• The construction of "gateways" at the city's prime entry points

• The improvement of bike lanes on U.S. Highway 550 and N.M. Highway 516

• The completion of the long-planned East Aztec Arterial Route

• The expansion of transit services in coordination with Red Apple Transit

• The inclusion of bike lands in all future transportation projects

• A feasibility study for the possible creation of a teen center

• Implementation of a reverse 911 plan

• And reduction of the city's susceptibility to flooding.

More:Aztec will unveil draft update to comprehensive plan during June 3 meeting

Fishman said the goals have been divided into various groups with dates assigned for their approximate implementation. Implementation of the goals in the short-term group would take place in 2022 and 2023. Those in the medium-term group would be implemented between 2024 and 2026, and those in the long-term group would be implemented between 2027 and 2035.

The specifics of the plan seemed to be well received by those attendance, with a minimum of questions posed or comments made at the conclusion of the meeting. But Fishman said that isn't unusual, especially if community members have been strongly engaged in the process up to this point.

She also noted a lot of folks in attendance may still have been processing what they had heard and seen.

"Obviously, it's a lot to take in — I just summarized 250 pages," she said, noting the length of the actual document. "If you're hearing it now for the first time, it's a lot."

But Fishman, Snover and Saavedra were all pleased with the turnout for the meeting.

"Obviously, I would love to see three times this number, but I'm pleasantly surprised by the number of people showing up," the mayor said. "I think that speaks to the hard work the city staff has put into it, especially Steven Saavedra. They've worked hard to bring this to fruition."

Snover said many elements of the plan were things for which he had been advocating even before he was elected to office in 2018.

"These were priorities for me when I was elected," he said.

Steven Saavedra

Saavedra said the turnout exceeded his expectations, and he was happy to see so many Aztec residents engaged in a task that he described as long overdue.

"A good plan should be updated at least every 10 years," he said, noting that Aztec hasn't adopted a new plan since 2001. "So we're too long in this process."

Mike Easterling can be reached at 505-564-4610 or Support local journalism with a digital subscription.