Home News Local News Proposal to put public lands under zoning rules clears another hurdle

Proposal to put public lands under zoning rules clears another hurdle

Members of the Extraterritorial Zoning Commission meeting Tuesday night approve a county request to change ETZ ordinances to remove exemptions for federal, state, county and city of Roswell land. The decision will now go before the ETZ Authority. From left are Matthew Bristol, Larry Connolly, Royce Maples, Chair Mona Kirk, Leroy Lang and Neil Roe. Harold Hobson was absent. (Lisa Dunlap Photo)

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A zoning ordinance that now exempts public lands should be amended so that they are subject to the same reviews as privately owned lands, according to a unanimous decision by the Roswell-Chaves County Extraterritorial Zoning Commission.

The matter will now go before the ETZ Authority. That group, which consists of Roswell City Council members and Chaves County Commissioners, must decide matters concerning ordinance amendments.

Meanwhile, the head of the New Mexico State Land Office has let county officials know that the agency opposes the change.

Six members of the Extraterritorial Zoning Commission voted to recommend that the county be allowed to amend ETZ zoning ordinance 80-1. That ordinance, which governs land within about two miles of the Roswell city limits, now says that land owned by the federal government, the state of New Mexico, Chaves County and the city of Roswell, or their “subdivisions or agencies” are exempt. If passed, an amendment would eliminate those exemptions.

The request for a change was brought before the ETZ by Chaves County Planning Director Marlin Johnson. A similar change has been proposed for Chaves County zoning ordinances, with that action receiving preliminary approval Oct. 3 from the Chaves County Planning and Zoning Commission. The Chaves County Board of Commissioners is due to vote later this week.

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Johnson told ETZ members, “The general consensus of the (Chaves County Board of Commissioners) is that the ordinance should apply equally to public lands as to private lands,” adding that the type of activities foreseen to be involved in land use zoning issues would be such things as cell towers, wind or solar farms, or commercial gravel pits.

In response to a question by a commission member, Johnson said that there is very little U.S. Bureau of Land Management property in the jurisdiction of the ETZ but there is a “considerable amount of state land and city of Roswell property.” He said building codes already apply to public lands, so this matter concerns land uses.

He also reiterated what he told the Planning and Zoning Commission that the desire to review land use is not being undertaken to halt projects but to ensure that health and safety factors are considered.

City of Roswell Planning and Zoning Administrator Meredith Hildreth said that the city staff had not had time yet to study and discuss the proposed amendment and would consider it before the ETZ Authority meeting.

BLM Planning Environmental Coordinator Gordon Garnett said, “We are still trying to figure some things out. As far as I know, it is just going to be another application being submitted to the county for their permits and stuff, but BLM would still require its conditions. … Once it comes through, we will figure it out as we go.”

The New Mexico State Land Office has written its “request that you reject any proposed revision to the county’s zoning order that would purport to assert zoning jurisdiction over state trust lands.”

The Sept. 25 letter signed by Commissioner of Public Lands Aubrey Dunn states, “The New Mexico courts have made It clear that counties and municipalities have no jurisdiction to regulate the use of state trust lands unless specifically granted that authority by the state Legislature.”

Although he said he was aware of the letter, ETZ Commission member Royce Maples, who said he also serves on the State Land Trust Advisory Council, supported the county position.

“The point I would make here is that other counties are already doing this,” said Maples. “There is disagreement about what is going on in Mora County, but other counties are doing it and Chaves County ought to get on the stick.”

Johnson said after the meeting that he has not read the State Land Office letter but is aware of its contents. “We certainly don’t agree with all of their opinions and I should leave it at that,” he said.

The Chaves County Board of Commissioners will meet 9 a.m. Thursday at the Chaves County Administrative Center to vote on the county zoning ordinance. The ETZ Authority will meet Oct. 26.

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

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Lisa Dunlap is a general assignment reporter for the Roswell Daily Record.