Confusion clouds county code
Ido not hold an advanced degree in public policy. Nor am I a builder or developer. I don’t hold a real estate license. I’m certainly not an attorney.
So it’s no wonder I had trouble reading and understanding the 455page Unified Development Code (UDC) that’s being proposed for Doña Ana County.
Of course, many of the landowners in our county are not experts either.
The code, which is a guide to implementing the county’s comprehensive plan, contains many things of which those landowners need to understand, because it greatly affects their greatest asset. In many cases the landowners have property that’s been in their families for generations.
The code, currently in its sixth draft, is available at www.vivadonaana.org, under Specialized Plans. There are a lot of landowners, builders, developers and real estate folks who are deeply concerned about the UDC. Many elements in the code are difficult to interpret. Some appear to alter or prevent the plans landowners have for the future of their property. Some people like the vision created in the UDC. In this week’s Bulletin, we present some information on the topic, in hopes to give people a better picture of the UDC, why it exists, how it was created, and what it may hold for our collective future.
We have a column by Sharon Thomas, a former Las Cruces City Councillor who was involved in the Camino Real Consortium, which helped create the UDC. We also have a column by Steve Montanez, a local real estate associate broker and board member for both the Las Cruces Association of Realtors and the Las Cruces Homebuilders Associations.
Here’s a collection of observations and curiosities after reviewing the UDC and talking with people more expert than me.
See related opinions from Sharon Thomas on page 6 and Steve Montanez, below.
• One of the nine tenets of the UDC’s intent is to provide for floodwater management. Very important. Another tenet is far less concrete: “Provide adequate light and air.”
• Apparently you can’t subdivide your land in less than 10-acre parcels. If I’m a farmer with 25 acres, and need only 20 acres to continue my operation, but desperately need the income from selling the other five acres, I may not be able to do it.
• In new developments, no residence can be more than 1,000 feet from a park. Yet there’s no entity designated to create or maintain parks.
• Elementary schools shall have sites no greater than five acres unless playground has 24-hour access. Do we really need 24-hour
SEE COLTHARP, PAGE 9
RICHARD COLTHARP COLTHRAP
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access to playgrounds? Where is the liability if an accident occurs on the playground at 3 a.m.?
• Childcare facilities shall have no more than four parking spaces.
• There are several matrices of the different types of land uses and what is and isn’t permitted on them. If you own a food truck, you should be OK, because they are permitted in almost every instance. But there are many more “Not Permitteds.”
• There are requirements as to what plants you can have (based on more than 14 pages of descriptions of plants). Oddly enough, an existing plant or tree on the property may not qualify and might need to be approved to stay. And you can’t shape or shear existing plants.
• If one day you decide to go into business for yourself and hang out a shingle, the UDC literally spells out how you can hang the shingle. Hint: Your letters better not be nine inches tall; the maximum is eight.
• Wastewater service is required for all community types. I read that to mean no septic tanks. After observing the struggles the City of Elephant Butte has had the past decade, annually begging for state money to piecemeal a wastewater system, it seems to me this requirement could be a major hindrance to any development in the county.
It appears to me if you were to apply the code retroactively, nearly every landowner in Doña Ana County would be in violation to one degree or another.
If this is going to guide us for the next 20-40 years, why not take a little more time to make sure the most important parties — the affected landowners — can comfortably make sense of it, and to correct any items that need to be corrected?