By Billy Huntsman
Las Cruces Bulletin
Many people argued for it, several argued passionately against it, but in the end the Doña Ana County Commission approved the Unified Development Code, 3-2, at its regular meeting on Dec. 13.
Billy Garrett, Wayne Hancock and David Garcia were those who voted for the code, which will affect what property owners can and can’t do on their land and how development happens across the county.
Leticia Duarte-Benavidez and Benjamin Rawson voted against the code, for different reasons.
“I think that the UDC document is a good code—I don’t disagree with that,” Benavidez said. “My concern is that there are some kinks that need to be (fixed). If we can fix them now (before adoption), it’s going to be better for the residents of Doña Ana County.”
Rawson said he was concerned how the UDC would affect farmers in rural parts of the county, in particular, rules regarding the keeping of livestock and allowing cows to graze. Garrett responded that he has never heard from anyone in the county about getting rid of grazing.
More than a dozen amendments to the UDC were proposed by the county’s Planning & Zoning Commission (P & Z), and before the vote on whether to adopt the UDC, the county commission voted, 5-0, in favor of whether to adopt the amendments.
Even amended, “I have a lot of concerns about the unintended consequences of this document and could not support it today,” Rawson said.
An example of one such consequence is Tim Sanders, an ETZ commissioner and resident of Dalrymple-Mayfield Lane north of Las Cruces. Because of how the UDC rezones his neighborhood, “up to seven homes per acre” could be built, increasing the density of the neighborhood. Sanders’ request to be rezoned so that such crowding could not occur was denied by the P & Z.
“Is this a flawed document? Yes,” said Garrett. “Is it fundamentally sound? Yes.”
A resident who advocated for UDC approval said the code has been tweaked again and again for the last year, and can be amended even more after it is adopted and implemented.
Two representatives from the Las Cruces Association of Realtors (LCAR) were present and spoke at the meeting, voicing the organization’s opposition to the UDC.
A real estate developer and a real estate agent not with LCAR were present and voiced their support of the UDC.
“There’s a reason home developers and realtors are against the UDC,” Rawson said, going on to note the two non-LCAR speakers did not have any active development projects in the county.
Hancock said the UDC, which merges nine sets of zoning codes and eliminates the Extra-territorial Zoning (ETZ) Authority, a city-county board established in 1989 that oversees land-use decisions in a five-mile radius around Las Cruces, “will be a huge boon for economic development in Doña Ana County.”
Garcia’s was the key vote. At the beginning of the meeting, Garcia had implied he was against —and would vote against — the UDC. But after public comments, which included several audience members appealing to Garcia “to be a leader, to show leadership” and to finish his time on the county commission with a “yes” vote, Garcia said he was swayed.
“There were a lot of good comments made by both sides,” he said after the vote.
He said he didn’t want development in the county to falter because of the UDC being postponed indefinitely, which Duarte-Benavidez proposed earlier in the morning.
To become final, the UDC now needs the approval of the state. Once approved, the ordinance can be recorded by the Doña Ana County clerk and will go into effect 30 days afterward.