A version of this was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican
August 9, 2006
Developers who contracted with the State Land Office to prepare more than 400 acres for sale have contributed to the re-election campaign of incumbent Land Commissioner Pat Lyons.
The land in Rio Rancho includes 216 acres where The University of New Mexico wants to build a west-side campus. Some UNM regents have criticized the business lease with the developers — which was awarded without going through a bid process — as a “sweetheart deal.”
The State Land Office contracted with a team of developers consisting of West Wood Realty of Albuquerque, GSL Properties Inc. of Portland, Ore., and Gregory Campbell of Rio Rancho, who works as a broker for West Wood.
According to state campaign-finance records, the Lyons campaign has received $500 from West Wood, $500 from West Wood manager John Black; $500 from Campbell and $500 from Walter Grodahl III, the chief executive officer of GSL.
Lyons on Tuesday denied the contributions had anything to do with the developers getting the contract.
But Democrat Jim Baca, who is running against Republican Lyons, said, “I don’t think it’s a coincidence.”
Lyons also denied the contract for the Rio Rancho land involved preferential treatment. “It’s no sweetheart deal,” he said. “There’s a business risk. They could lose money.”
Lyons said it’s standard procedure to approve such leases to develop trust land, and bidding is not required for leases of five years or less.
But, he said Tuesday, “maybe next time we’ll put ’em out to bid, and we’ll see what happens.”
Baca said the Rio Rancho contract and other no-bid development contracts with the State Land Office shows the need for an independent board to oversee the office’s transactions.
UNM regents expressed interest in buying the 439 acres of state trust land from the State Land Office when it was appraised for $16,500 an acre. About half would be used for the proposed new campus and the other half for commercial development to provide income for the school and to help cover the cost of the new campus.
Lyons said state law requires him to sell the land at fair market value, which currently is $32,000 an acre. Even though UNM is a beneficiary of money made on state trust lands, a spokeswoman for Lyons said that particular parcel is earmarked to benefit elementary and secondary public schools.
The property borders an area where Rio Rancho’s city hall is to be built and an arena is scheduled to open in October.
The lease charges the developers $5,000 a year and requires them to do master planning and engineering and design work to prepare the land for sale.
The developers would receive 40 percent of the land’s increase in value above a base figure of about $15,000 an acre. In addition, they get reimbursed for the money they spend on the project.
The Associated Press was used in this report.
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