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Planners move to address ‘workforce camps’

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Two temporary housing camps have made some initial moves in Chaves County, says Louis Jaramillo, Planning and Zoning director, who added that he hopes they will not be developed before new regulations are in place. (Lisa Dunlap Photo)

The boom in population growth in Lea and Eddy counties due to a thriving oil and gas industry in that portion of the Permian Basin is starting to impact Chaves County.

For that reason, Chaves County planners are discussing some proposed additions to Extraterritorial Zoning and Chaves County ordinances to govern the formation of workforce camps, trailer parks and recreational vehicle parks that will spring up as a result of shortages in available housing.

“How this came about is — of course, you know I came from the city of Artesia — and my friends to the south in Eddy County and Lea County are dealing with these extreme (camps). They are finding them anywhere and everywhere,” said Louis Jaramillo, Chaves County Planning and Zoning director. “Last count I had was 135, and only 80 are registered.”

He introduced the draft of proposed new additions to the ETZ ordinance to the Extraterritorial Zoning Commission Tuesday. The new provisions would establish standards and regulations for recreational vehicle and mobile home parks and workforce camps, sometimes called man-camps. Workforce camps are sometimes developed by oil and gas businesses for their employers. All three types of developments can also be created by landowners or developers.

Jaramillo said he intends to propose similar new provisions to the Chaves County Planning and Zoning Commission at one of its future meetings. The two commissions are expected to take at least a month to review and suggest changes before actions will be taken.

At public meetings, Lea and Eddy county officials have talked publicly about the challenge their population growth is putting on their cities and counties for services, infrastructure and housing. They have said some oilfield workers are traveling every day to and from West Texas because they can’t find local housing for themselves and their families. And a public company, Target Hospitality, has announced plans to build a 400-bed workforce community in Carlsbad by the end of the year.

Jaramillo told ETZ commissioners that he is aware of two potential workforce developments in Chaves County, although his hope is that he can delay their construction until the new zoning provisions are passed.

Merideth Hildreth, city of Roswell planning administrator, voiced her support for the concept. She said that she became familiar with the issues concerning such temporary housing when she worked as a planner in Lovington. She said some companies did a great job creating workforce communities, but that some grew more quickly than the regulations could keep pace with and had such consequences as too little space between units and site pads of dirt only that would become muddy during rains.

She said she worked to create zoning rules in Lovington and Roswell regarding such housing developments and recognizes the need for them.

“These can be well done, with vegetation (swimming pools and other community facilities),” she said. “While I was there (Lovington), two were permitted with the regulations and they turned out nice. … So I think it is a good opportunity for Chaves County to go ahead and put these standards in place for man-camps and RV parks and make them nice and make them livable units. People are paying a lot of money to rent a little space and they deserve more than a slab of mud.”

A couple of ETZ commissioners also said the county should address water availability for such developments since an ongoing concern exists about residential domestic wells outside the city of Roswell depleting water available for agricultural businesses.

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