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Public lands amendment met with approval; P&Z director says change to county rule is about health and safety

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A zoning amendment that would make publicly owned lands subject to the same reviews and approvals as privately owned land receives the recommendation of members of the Chaves County Planning and Zoning Commission Tuesday night. From left are Robbie White, Chair Dale Rogers and Melodi Salas. The matter must be decided by a vote of the Chaves County Board of Commissioners. (Lisa Dunlap Photo)

With no opposition voiced at a public hearing, Chaves County planning and zoning officials have recommended changing county rules so that public lands will no longer be exempt from zoning ordinances.

“We aren’t regulating to try to stop development, but the expectation is to see that whatever is done is done in a way that is safe and reasonable,” said Chaves County Planning and Zoning Director Marlin Johnson after the Tuesday evening meeting of the Planning and Zoning Commission.

Without questions or discussion, the three members of the commission present at the meeting — Robbie White, Chair Dale Rogers and Melodi Salas — voted to adopt the staff’s recommendation for an amendment to Zoning Ordinance No. 7 that now exempts lands owned by public agencies such as the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, the New Mexico State Land Office and the city of Roswell.

To become official, the change still must be approved by the Chaves County Board of Commissioners at an upcoming meeting.

Johnson also has indicated that the county intends to ask the Roswell-Chaves County Extraterritorial Zoning Commission to amend its ordinances in a similar manner.

“I would like to add from my experience where we did regulate these (public lands) in Wyoming, we didn’t regulate these so much as a yes or no on the proposals,” Johnson said to commission members prior to their vote. “It was more of, what is the impact on residential uses, like where are you going to relocate your road? … And if there are facilities where there might be emergency responses, how would that impact emergency responders? So it is not to say yes or no to the requests but to make sure that they are taking care of the health and safety of the citizens.”

Johnson said he has been told that the State Land Office did send a letter to the Board of Commissioners regarding the proposal, but he added that he could not give specifics at this time. Chuck Schmidt, field manager with the Roswell office of the BLM, said at an earlier Chaves County Public Lands Council meeting where the matter was talked about but not voted on that he would be willing to discuss the amendment with county officials.

Johnson said representatives with the BLM, Land Office and city of Roswell were notified of their ability to make comments at the hearing, but no representatives attended. No citizens addressed the commission about the issue, either.

After the commission vote, Johnson, who said he worked for Platte County and the town of Wheatland in Wyoming when those governments applied zoning regulations to both public and privately owned lands, told commission members that he saw the issue as being about equal treatment of property owners.

“If you want a wind farm on your property, we notify the BLM if they are your neighbors,” he said. “Why shouldn’t the neighbors know if the BLM is going to propose a wind farm?”

Salas indicated her agreement with that comment.

The Chaves County Board of Commissioners is scheduled to meet next on Thursday, Oct. 19, at 9 a.m. in the Chaves County Administrative Center.

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