Workforce housing camps and quickly built recreational vehicle parks aren’t prevalent in Chaves County yet, although many are found in Eddy and Lea counties in response to severe housing shortages caused by the influx of oilfield workers. But some local residents are already letting county officials know that they want good policy and strong enforcement to prevent problems.
“You can have all the regulations in the world and you all can do all this, but if you don’t enforce them, they are not worth you know what, they are not worth anything,” said Patty Johnson at a Tuesday meeting of the Roswell-Chaves County Extraterritorial Zoning (ETZ) Commission. “We are concerned, and we want to make sure that there is going to be enforcement.”
New articles to county and ETZ ordinances are being reviewed by two commissions. Recommendations for changes to a draft ETZ article have been made to county staff by ETZ commission members and city of Roswell planning staff, with future discussions expected to occur during the next couple of months.
The articles would set standards for RV parks and workforce camps in efforts to keep them safe, sanitary and unproblematic for neighbors and the county.
County residents let ETZ Commission members and Chaves County Planning and Zoning staff know that they have concerns about several potential problems, including lowered property values, traffic issues and possible increased crime activity.
Several people recommended separate sections of the ordinance for RV camps and workforce camps, with one resident saying that RV camps should not allow permanent inhabitants, and voicing the opinion that workforce camps should not be allowed in the county.
“We don’t have oil and gas,” said Reid Marley, who works in the oil and gas industry and referred to the low number of active wells in Chaves County compared to Lea and Eddy counties. “Workforce camps, we are just going to get the negatives without the positives of the oil production.”
He added that he thinks Roswell has enough affordable houses to buy and rent to give oilfield workers options and he also urged commission members to develop zoning regulations that are very specific and will not allow people to circumvent the county’s intent.
“I don’t believe that this plan that has been presented and that we are reviewing is protecting our county, our resources or the people in it,” said Reid Marley. “I believe that if you let developers or mancamp-slash-oil companies get away with anything, they will do it.”
Several residents wanted to talk about a project being developed that they thought might be intended as an RV camp, but they were told that ETZ commission members, as a “quasi-judicial body,” are not allowed to hear information about a matter that might be presented to them in the future. Residents were advised to direct any concerns about the site to county staff.
Chaves County Planning and Zoning Director Louis Jaramillo said he and other staff visited Eddy County recently to look at some of the new RV parks and workforce camps that have sprung up and noticed problems such as above-ground waste tanks that are overflowing. The new articles and regulations are meant to prevent such problems, but he agreed that enforcement will be an issue.
“Three hundred is the maximum that a judge can fine for a zoning violation (on a daily basis),” Jaramillo said, adding that few judges are willing to apply that daily. Fines are not prohibitive for larger projects with a few hundred units charging $700 to $800 a month per unit, he explained.
“We also learned in Eddy County that it (fines) is the cost of doing business,” he said. “That is their motto.”
ETZ Commission member Matthew Bristol said he heard from someone that a “mancamp” was planned for Chaves County. Bristol said he asked, “Do they have proper zoning? And they said, ‘Well, we heard it was easier to ask forgiveness than to ask permission.’”
Jaramillo said new state legislation might be needed to deal with the circumstances that arise from these new types of developments, and he noted that the New Mexico Environmental Department is interested in ensuring that the sites maintain good public and environmental health standards.
Senior Writer Lisa Dunlap can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 311, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.