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Unkempt properties trouble city, county

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Should Chaves County or the city of Roswell be responsible for cleaning up county properties such as this one northwest of the city if the property owners won’t? Government officials are considering updates to a 30-year-old agreement that put condemnation and demolition responsibilities on the city, with county reimbursement enforced by liens on the property. (Submitted Photo)

The concern over unsightly properties in the area has been brought to the fore again by some public officials.

At meetings this year of the Extraterritorial Zoning Commission and Extraterritorial Zoning Authority, some members have been vocal about the need to demolish dilapidated structures or clean up properties containing a lot of debris, especially properties fronting the major roads in and out of the city.

“They bring people in from out of town and they drive down South Main, it looks like a … junkyard,” said ETZ Commission Chair Larry Connolly in a later interview.

He added that the situation along Main Street, a major thoroughfare that is also a state highway, has improved over the years but still needs work.

He also said that an upcoming New Mexico Department of Transportation project to improve the highway should give impetus for change.

“Do we want trash placed on our brand new highway? … I think everyone wants to do something. They just don’t have the mechanism,” Connolly said.

One of the area’s chief business developers said potential business developers have commented on the situation.

“I have to say that, yes, there have been comments about particular views that are not as attractive as they would wish, and specifically for me, those comments came when we were coming in (to town) from the air center,” said John Mulcahy, president of the Roswell-Chaves County Economic Development Corp.

He said he does think the clean-up issue needs to be considered.

“I think that blight has a negative impact on economic development,” he said.

At issue is whether the city of Roswell or Chaves County should be responsible for the expensive and labor-intensive process of working with property owners or, if needed, proceeding with condemnation and clean-up efforts.

A 30-year-old agreement between the two governmental entities outlines that the city is responsible for condemnation and demolitions, with the county able to place liens on the property and reimburse the city. The agreement applies countywide and not just to ETZ properties, which are generally located in the county but within two miles of the city limits.

But there are problems with that agreement, according to Community Development Manager Bill Morris.

“This document would place all the burden of the demolition of derelict structures solely on the city staff and budget,” he said in a email. “Demolition is very expensive and will almost never be (recouped) by the placement of a lien on the site.”

Morris said that the city has instituted the Clean and Safe Program to alleviate the problem. At various times during the year, the city will waive landfill fees for limited periods of time for residents removing structures or debris from their properties.

Morris also noted that, when it comes to properties within city limits, the city seeks to work with property owners first.

“The city staff would prefer to save a structure before just bringing it down, so staff attempts to work with the property owner, and only moves forward when there is no resolution to the situation,” he wrote.

Similar tensions between the city and county arose in 2015 over a junkyard just north of the city limits on U.S. 285. The Chaves County Board of Commissioners ordered and conducted the clean up when the property owner did not meet county deadlines to do so. But county leaders later complained about the costs.

In a May 2017 letter to ETZ Authority members, Chaves County Planning and Zoning Director Marlin Johnson wrote that the city had not waived landfill fees for that clean-up and that the refusal to waive the “tipping” fees was consistent on various properties from 2015 to 2017.

Morris said that the city and county are discussing whether to update the Extraterritorial Zoning Ordinance and the 30-year-old agreement in 2019. He added the city has proposed a joint city-county clean-up of South Main Street, but that no agreement has been reached yet on that.

Senior Writer Lisa Dunlap can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 311, or at reporter02@rdrnews.com.