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Council delays action on housing development program

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Juno Ogle Photo Community Development Director Kevin Maevers, left, City Manager Joe Neeb, City Councilor Judy Stubbs, lower right, and City Engineer Louis Najar confer about a resolution creating an infrastructure reimbursement program for housing developers during a recess of Thursday night's Roswell City Council meeting. The council voted to postpone taking any action on the resolution until next month.

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Despite recognizing the need for more housing in Roswell and several people speaking in favor of it, a program proposed by the city to encourage development is going back to the drawing board.

The Roswell City Council voted 9-0 Thursday night to postpone until next month taking action on a resolution that would create a municipal infrastructure reimbursement program. Councilor Angela Moore left the meeting prior to the vote.

The program, based on one in Hobbs, would offer partial reimbursement for building infrastructure such as streets, sidewalks, and water and sewer lines that the city would own after the developments are completed.

While city councilors agreed the program could help spur housing growth in the city, they also agreed more details need to be worked out before putting it to work.

Part of the confusion came from a revised version of the proposal councilors had received in hard copy for the meeting that contained some differences from the version in the agenda packet that had been recommended by the council’s Legal Committee in September.

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Councilor Judy Stubbs sought clarification on wether the reimbursement would be calculated by square footage of the livable area of the property or linear footage, as was outlined in another section.

City Manager Joe Neeb said he believed the livable area calculation was to be used in a case when the lot to be developed does not allow for a good linear calculation, such as a lot that has a shallow frontage and the house is situated to the deeper length of the lot.

When Stubbs said she wanted to get clarification from City Engineer Louis Najar, Mayor Dennis Kintigh recessed the meeting for five minutes, during which Stubbs, Najar, Neeb and Community Development Director Kevin Maevers discussed the issue.

When the meeting resumed, Kintigh called for the four people who signed up to speak on the program to have their say. Only one of the four, Ed Hildebrand of Roswell, spoke against the program.

Hildebrand said he had started an affordable housing development on the south side of town 20 years ago and of the 72 lots, he still had 23 to sell.

“I let my development stand on its own two feet,” he said, adding that he had paid for the infrastructure such as roads, water, sewer and electrical lines.

“I’m not asking the city to put any money in my pocket, because if you do, you’re picking winners and losers,” he said.

“That’s not the way it should be. This should be transparent and available to everyone in this community,” he said. “If you want to do something to help people with housing, you don’t pick the winners and losers, you let the free market decide who the winners and losers are.”

He said the program, as written, was vague about who gets the reimbursement.

During his presentation on the program, Neeb said the reimbursement is not given by the city until a permit for occupancy is given.

“Somewhere between the builder and the end user, who is the person buying the house, is where this reimbursement, because it’s at the certificate of occupancy, that is where the reimbursement is at,”  Neeb said.

“This incentive is to increase the number of families that buy homes in the city of Roswell,” he said.

“It doesn’t say this goes into the individual home-buyer’s pocket,” Hildebrand said. “It is very vague on that.”

Hildebrand suggested the city could examine other avenues to encourage housing development, such as reducing the size of rights-of-way to make more land available to develop.

Dan Dattola, a developer from Pinon, said he had worked with the program in Hobbs and it helped solve a housing shortage there.

“It took about seven years, but we’ve got 742 houses in there, and what’s happened is there’s other builders that came in because they saw the demand for it,” he said.

“I’ve studied this market, and this market is in more serious problems than Hobbs was, so I think this is ideal for this community to solve your housing problem,” he said.

Todd Seidenschwarz said he owns two apartment complexes in Roswell as well as units in Artesia, Hagerman, Carlsbad and Albuquerque, and would like to build more here.

“The reason you lack developers is because it’s a tough business to be in,” he said. “This would take a little bit of the edge off.”

Building a large apartment complex and new homes would open up units in smaller complexes and starter homes, making more workforce housing available, he said.

“I would love to sell all my stuff in Albuquerque and invest the money down here,” he said.

Mike Espiritu, president of the Roswell-Chaves County Economic Development Corp., also spoke in favor of the program.

Councilor Jason Perry made the motion to postpone voting on the resolution until the council’s November meeting.

“I think that there’s enough confusion at this point that we need to make sure that what we’re passing is going to be most appropriate,” he said.

Councilors Jacob Roebuck, Barry Foster and Margaret Kennard also agreed that while it was important for the city to do what it could to encourage development, councilors need to make sure the program’s details are clear.

“I think the program has a lot of good opportunities, but I agree we maybe need to look at it one more time and hammer some of these things out,” Kennard said.

 

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