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Sidewalk, ‘tiny home’ provisions head to City Council

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Copyright © 2021 Roswell Daily Record

[Note: This post has been updated to correct the spelling of Cathy Knight’s name.]

The Roswell City Council will decide at its next meeting whether to hold public hearings about two proposed changes to city codes, one involving sidewalks and the other concerning tiny homes.

Four city councilors on the Legal Services Committee — Chair Judy Stubbs and Councilors Barry Foster, George Peterson and Savino Sanchez — decided Thursday to forward to the entire City Council a proposed ordinance to the Roswell City Code that would allow the city to enforce standards for sidewalks inside the city limits.

As envisioned now, the new ordinance also would create a plan for maintaining all city-owned sidewalks and methods to help private property owners pay for repairs in some cases.

The item is scheduled to be considered at the Nov. 14 City Council meeting, when councilors would vote on whether to advertise to hold a December public hearing about the topic.

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Some city residents are enthusiastic about the prospect of an improvement plan and future funding for city sidewalks.

Cathy Knight, who has lived in Roswell’s historic district with her husband, Larry, for three years, circulated a petition that gathered 350 signatures in favor of a new policy.

“The only thing that limited the number of signatures on the petitions was the time available to collect them,” she said.

She explained that she worked with about 20 other people to circulate the petitions starting in July, when she heard that the City Council was considering changing the existing city code, which leaves all responsibility for a sidewalks’ condition up to the property owner unless the city caused the damage.

The petition reads, in its exact wording and punctuation: “Roswell, New Mexico sidewalks have been allowed to fall into disrepair. They are hazardous for pedestrians to navigate, in many cases are not ADA compliant and detrimental to property values. We, the undersigned, are concerned citizens who urge our City Council to act now to replace sidewalks and provide a long-term funding plan for citizens and city government to pay for the sidewalk replacements.”

She said that, as a person who enjoys taking walks herself, she was aware of the need to repair some sidewalks and added that most of the people she visited were willing to sign the petition because they recognized that it would improve the appearance and value of homes and the city, and would make for safer walking paths.

Kaarina Jager also voiced her support for the policy, but said that the cost of sidewalk repairs or replacement, while manageable for some property owners, could be impossible for others.

As discussed at the Thursday meeting, the proposed ordinance would allow the city to cite property owners if their sidewalks did not meet city or Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) standards. In some cases, if the property owners did not repair the sidewalks themselves, the city could do repairs at the property owners’ cost.

Property owners could seek a variance, a hardship exception or appeal the violation citation at various points in the process, and City Manager Joe Neeb said that the city intended to develop some sort of voluntary assessment or low-interest loan program, so that city crews could do the repairs and property owners could pay for the work over time.

The other aspects of the concept, with details still to be developed prior to the public hearing, involve the city developing a plan for needed repairs and replacement of city-owned sidewalks, and to create a funding mechanism by fiscal year 2021 (or July 2020 to June 2021).

The other item heading for City Council and a possible public hearing involves amendments to the Roswell Zoning Ordinance to allow for tiny homes, defined as structures less than 400 square feet.

One change would put the definition of tiny homes into the ordinance, another allows tiny homes on foundations in existing residential mobile home subdivisions and another would create a new type of subdivision in Roswell exclusively for tiny homes or similar structures.

Bill Morris, community development director, said that the city wants to be proactive in dealing with this new trend of housing, after the state adopted policies in its administrative code that define standards for tiny homes, modular homes and container homes.

“The zoning staff has been inundated with a lot of requests lately, say in the last nine months, and it isn’t just tiny homes. It is also container homes that are contained in that same definition,” he said. “The concern we had was these things being placed in neighborhoods — existing neighborhoods — that would be detrimental to the property values. It wasn’t necessarily the actual house, because we think there are applications for these houses that are actually suitable and should be encouraged.”

Sanchez was the only member to vote against forwarding the amendments to the City Council. He questioned why the proposed Residential Tiny Home Subdivision might allow homes slightly larger than 400 square feet, assuming Planning and Zoning commissioners allowed such variances, but tiny homes aren’t being allowed to be sited near larger homes in existing subdivisions.

In other matters before the committee, the members voted to forward to the City Council for its consideration 10 new or renewed Roswell Air Center leases; a proposed contract with a new marketing and advertising firm for the city, 3 Advertising of Albuquerque; and the annual membership payment of $13,588 to the Southeast New Mexico Economic Development District/Council of Governments. Three other matters were tabled for a future meeting.

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