BY MIKE COOK
LAS CRUCES – “I think we can all agree we need affordable housing in Las Cruces,” Mayor Pro Tem Gill Sorg said at a recent Las Cruces City Council meeting.
At its Monday, Feb. 4 regular meeting, the council approved a long-term, low-interest loan of $495,500 to Tierra del Sol Housing Corporation as part of a local match for the nonprofit’s application to the New Mexico Finance Authority’s (NMMFA) allocation pool for Low Income Housing Tax Credits (LIHTC).
The new complex would cost $12 million to construct 60 low-income housing units at the corner of Peachtree Hills and Jornada roads in the Metro Verde South development in northeast Las Cruces.
At its Jan. 22 meeting, the council approved allocations of $700,000 each to Tierra del Sol for the Peachtree Canyon project and to Mesilla Valley Public Housing Authority’s Desert Hope Apartments at 1310 Pecos St., which plans are to expand 20 apartments into 36 efficiencies at a total cost of about $6 million.
The $700,000 for each project includes $200,000 from the city’s U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Home Investment Partnership (HOME) program funds and an additional $500,000 from the city’s Telshor Facility Fund, which was created in October 2004 with proceeds from the pre-paid lease of Memorial Medical Center to Providence Healthcare Company, according to city documents.
City Housing Development Coordinator Jan Lauterbach said Las Cruces has a shortage of about 5,000 low-income housing units, including about 3,000 units for single families.
The city funding will provide local matching funds necessary for both nonprofit housing agencies to apply for the NMMFA LIHTC program.
At its Feb. 4 regular meeting, the city council also unanimously adopted a community blueprint for the development of almost five acres of city property located on the west side of Lewis Street and Spruce Avenue for affordable housing.
City of Las Cruces Community Forrester Jimmy Zabriskie said city Parks and Recreation Department staff are drafting a tree policy management program “that integrates safety practices for the community, wildlife and trees,” according to a city summary document of Zabriskie’s presentation to the city council at its Jan. 29 work session.
The policy will set guidelines for tree planting and proper maintenance and help the city “take better care of the trees we have decided to plant and grow,” said Zabriskie, who was hired as the city’s first ever community forester in October 2017.
Under the new policy, the community forester will approve the selection of trees to be planted in public spaces, review city landscape plans to ensure that appropriate trees and planting locations are selected and inspect all city trees for climate appropriateness, structure, root systems and other characteristics.
The policy also will address willful damage to city trees and appropriate pruning of city palm trees.
The city has more than 6,000 trees in city parks and other public areas.
The city is making steady progress on the 20 goals grouped under four themes outlined in the strategic plan adopted by the city council in July 2017, City Manager Stuart Ed said at the council’s Jan. 29 work session.
The “concise, time constrained” plan outlines tasks the city is “looking to accomplish over the next four to five years,” Ed said. It’s four themes are capital improvements and infrastructure; communications, involvement and follow-up; economic and community development; and education.
Ed said the city accomplished two tasks in 2017 and has accomplished four of the six tasks targeted in 2018.
Accomplishments include a “national best practice” internship program under which the city partners with Doña Ana Community College and has placed interns in the city Utilities Department and the budget and city manager’s office. The city also has also created a career development coordinator position and begun a mentorship program, Ed said.
The city is also completing its sidewalk plan and is targeting sidewalk gaps around Las Cruces schools, Ed said. As part of the city’s goal for parks, it has updated parks maintenance schedules and is at work on an integrated pest management pest program, a tree policy and a policy that will set consistent standards for restrooms in city parks. The city also has hired an active transportation coordinator.
The strategic plan includes a “substantial transformation” in the city’s purchasing section that incorporates performance in outsource contracts, Ed said, including “moving away from accepting the lowest responsive bid to the most-responsive, best-value bidder” that is based on a contract-by-contract basis over the lifecycle of the performance, he said.
“As an indication of some of the excitement downtown,” Ed said the Rio Grande Theatre turned a profit in its first year of operation under the city. Its return on a $125,000 city investment was $130,000, he said.
“Before, we were just spending $130,000 and the theatre, in addition to that, was losing an additional $75,000 to $95,000 a year. The net impact on your general fund is a net increase of $130,000 that’s now available.”
The other action, the council…
• supported adoption of an out-of-zone film tax credit by the state legislature. New Mexico currently provides a tax rebate of up to 30 percent for film production in the state, said Mandy Guss of the city Economic Development Department. Film and television production requires the hiring of union employees, she said. Since most live in Albuquerque and Santa Fe, productions must pay additional costs to bring them to production sites outside Bernalillo and Santa Fe counties. The council’s action supports an additional five percent tax credit for film and TV production in Las Cruces and other locations around the state outside those two counties.
• unanimously approved the addition of about 323 acres to Metro Verde South located on both sides of Sonoma Ranch Boulevard, south of Peachtree Hills Road, north of Thurmond/Engler Road, east of Red Hawk Golf Road and west of McGuffy Street.
The ordinance calls for a range of land uses in the new addition that are already found throughout the existing development. The 323 acres will be added to the 879 acres that currently comprise Metro Verde South.
Mike Cook may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.