The municipally-owned Juan Gonzales Bas Heritage Farm hasn’t looked this good in years. Purchased and preserved in perpetuity in 2008 by the people of Corrales, the 5.5-acre tract west of Wells Fargo Bank is at its most green in a decade, perhaps even more than when it was cultivated by the founder of Corrales himself.
The entire tract is planted in a cover crop while Village officials continue to explore leasing it. For more than a year, a lease transaction has awaited installation of an irrigation well and distribution lines. Historically and currently, the farm has been irrigated from the adjacent Corrales Acequia.
The land acquired by the Village of Corrales using municipal general obligation bonds approved by voters in 2004 is the middle portion of a much larger swath of green belt in the heart of Corrales. A three-acre parcel fronting Corrales Road next to the bank is bare this spring, but a larger segment west of the acequia is beginning to sprout a crop.
Over the years, both the frontage and the western parcel have attracted wistful eyes of villagers who want them preserved as green belt or at least open space. But a significant campaign to buy the frontage —or at least to pay for an appraisal on it— was unsuccessful about three years ago. Even so, strong community sentiment remains for it to be acquired for public use. In a guest commentary for Corrales Comment in 2019, former Village Councillor Fred Hashimoto made the following argument. His op-ed article was titled “A Central Heritage Park.”
“The primary objective of the Heritage Park Project proposal is to have the Village purchase the Gonzales three-acre property —which lies along Corrales Road and is nestled in between the library, La Entrada Park, the Gonzales-Bas farmland and the municipal complex —for a multi-use public park and recreation open space with opportunities and benefits for the whole village.
“Although much thought and effort has been put into drafting the Heritage Park Project proposal, it is a general proposal and conceptualization of the park has purposely been painted with broad brush strokes. Specifics can be put on the table and discussed and the project can be modified to best suit the needs of the village.
“During the past year, the Heritage Park planning committee has held a dozen or so design charrettes. Attendees have been a diverse group including representatives from Corrales Community Farms, Corrales Arts Partners, Corrales Growers’ Market, Village Council, Parks and Recreation, Bikeways/Pathways, Sandoval County Master Gardeners, Friends of the Corrales Library, and CHAMP. Professional landscape designers, tree nursery persons and the Corrales Tractor Club have said they would be willing to help.
“Notably, a recurring theme has been: get the land first and then planning can be more focused including: designated paths for walking and jogging, bicycling and horse riding; paths connecting the various Village holdings and the commercial district along Corrales Road to the east and the Acequia Madre to the west; drinking fountain, horse trough, tables and benches; extending La Entrada Park and the children’s playground; trees and gardens (heritage plants, pollinator, school children’s garden, etc.); structure(s) for shade and outdoor events; parking and access to the library, La Entrada Park and the Gonzales-Bas farmland from Corrales Road; and workout apparatuses, kiosk, restroom facilities, well and watering, and signs for history and education and tourism information.
“Once the Village makes the commitment to pursue purchasing the land, things can happen. Design specifics will be examined. Possibly legislative help can be enlisted to help gain some components of the project. The Heritage Park Planning Committee has many volunteers in its midst. Some of the committee’s volunteers already have worked on similar projects in Albuquerque and Rio Rancho. We feel that volunteers can supply much of the people power for the Heritage Park plan’s implementation and maintenance.”
Because the time window on purchasing any piece of land has limits, we have recently submitted a formal proposal. However, it is a flexible means to the end of the Village owning the property which will give Corrales a “Village Center” presence and visual cohesiveness and identity that will benefit many.
“Once the Village makes the commitment, then all interested parties can convene and discuss project details. We all can work together and celebrate our village commonalities, not differences. Let’s start the new year right and positively.”
Those three acres adjacent to Wells Fargo Bank have been zoned for commercial use since the 1980s; a site plan for an office complex there was presented in 2008 by developer Jack Westman. The project never happened, and the land reverted to ownership by the Gonzales family, descendants of Juan Gonzales Bas.
In 2017, a proposal was made for the mayor and Village Council to transform it into a botanical garden, a year-round growers’ market and a food canning facility for local produce.
At a work-study session on an Infrastructure Capital Improvement Plan (ICIP) for the Village of Corrales June 27, 2017 several villagers advocated that the land be purchased as the site for a produce market, an irrigation well for the adjacent Juan Gonzales Bas Heritage Farm and a two-acre botanical garden.
Speaking for the Corrales Tree Preservation Committee, John Thompson suggested the acreage could be used to grow heritage grapes and fruit trees as part of the botanical garden. He urged that the project be added to the Village’s ICIP to boost opportunities for future funding, and asked that a municipal bond proposal be put to Corrales voters the following March for those purposes.
According to the proposal at that time, two of the Gonzales’ three frontage acres might be used for the botanic garden and the remaining acre along Corrales Road could become a permanent growers’ market and food processing or canning facility, he suggested.
Several other citizens asked that a general obligation (GO) bond question be placed before voters for farmland preservation. The citizens included Amba and David Caldwell, Lisa Brown, Stacia Spragg-Braude, Elan Silverblatt, Sandi Hoover, Chantelle Wagner, Jimmy Wagner and Claudia Smith Miller.
During the public comment portion of the ICIP work-study session, Amba Caldwell asked councillors to give high priority to saving farmland from development as housing. “We are highly benefitted by the farming that takes place in our community.”
Her husband, David Caldwell, underscored that by adding, “Our agricultural heritage is integral to who we are.”
Spragg-Braude made the point that saving land for farming “is not just about buying land —it’s about saving open space for all kinds of activities that benefit the people here.”
Thompson addressed the mayor and council to explain how his committee’s goals would require some priority in the Village’s ICIP. If the council allowed a GO bond proposal to be put before voters, funds could be raised for the infrastructure associated with a heritage vineyard and orchard. Elan Silverblatt, co-owner of Silver Leaf Farms here in Corrales, also supported acquisition of the front three acres as a “multi-purpose space.”
“It seems like all the pieces are here to make this a reality, so I would encourage you all to take leadership to achieve this,” he urged. But the project died soon after Mayor Jo Anne Roake was elected amid an attorney’s opinion that proposed general obligation bonds likely could not be used for such an acquisition.