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County staff recommend having zoning ordinances for public lands

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"I consider it a level playing field," says Chaves County Planning and Zoning Director Marlin Johnson, shown at an August Board of Commissioners meeting, about a suggested amendment that would remove public lands' exemptions to county zoning ordinances. (Lisa Dunlap Photo)

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Some Chaves County leaders want to change zoning ordinances so that public land agencies would be required to comply with zoning rules for infrastructure or construction projects just as private land owners are now.

“It wouldn’t have anything to do with agricultural uses or recreational uses,” said Chaves County Planning and Zoning Director Marlin Johnson. “But, for instance, if someone was putting up a wind farm or a cell tower, I think the Board’s issue was, why shouldn’t that be treated the same as private land?”

The proposed zoning ordinance amendment is scheduled to be heard for the first time by the Chaves County Planning and Zoning Commission at its meeting this week.

The amendment to Zoning Ordinance No. 7 has been proposed by Chaves County Planning and Zoning staff and comes after elected officials on the Chaves County Board of Commissioners indicated that they thought public lands should be treated the same as privately owned lands.

“During discussion of the Comprehensive Land Use Plan update in 2015, the Chaves County Board of Commissioners inquired about the Zoning Ordinance’s applicability to public land,” states a Planning and Zoning staff review document included as part of a meeting agenda. “As written, the Zoning Ordinance excepts enforcement on public land. The general consensus of the Board was that the Ordinance should apply equally to public lands as private lands.”

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If adopted, which would require a vote by the Board of Commissioners, the amended ordinance would apply to all county lands except those lying in the boundaries of the city of Roswell, the towns of Hagerman, Dexter and Lake Arthur, or the Chaves County-Roswell Extraterritorial Zone.

The staff review indicates that the county intends to amend the Extraterritorial Zoning rules in the same manner. The Roswell-Chaves County Extraterritorial Commission is scheduled to meet Oct. 17.

Johnson alerted members of the Chaves County Land Council during the group’s Sept. 14 meeting that the amendment was going to be introduced. The Land Council is not involved in the decision, but Johnson said he wanted them to be aware of what was being proposed.

Johnson said that such a policy existed when he worked for a Wyoming governmental entity.

“It was not a problem with the agencies in Wyoming or with the town or the county,” he said “It is not a big deal, but I consider it a level playing field.”

Johnson indicated that he already has notified people with various agencies and government entities that would be affected.

“It has to be decided by elected officials, and we expect input from the public agencies if they want,” he said.

“I have had conversations with Marlin,” said Chuck Schmidt, field manager with the Roswell office of the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, who attended the Land Council meeting.

“I am definitely not familiar with what they did in Wyoming,” said Schmidt. “I can tell you working with Lincoln County on some of these wind farms proposals over there, I do believe that they are trying to apply it kind of uniform. I would be very much interested in working with you because I have no concept of how many ordinances the county has in place that could be put onto this.”

Johnson indicated that the proposed amendment will affect only the zoning ordinance, but Schmidt responded that he still needed to read the ordinance and discuss how it might affect federal lands.

The Planning and Zoning Commission is scheduled to meet 5:30 p.m. Tuesday in the Chaves County Administrative Center, #1 St. Mary’s Place.

Senior Writer Lisa Dunlap can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 310, or at reporter02@rdrnews.com.