Development document set to go before planning and zoning board in April.
LAS CRUCES – The city of Las Cruces is proposing a new development code that officials say would be another big step in downtown revitalization.
City staff reviewed the proposed “form-based” development code, which would cover downtown Las Cruces, on Monday during a city council work session. A 45-day public comment period runs through April 22.
A key difference between the land-use model currently in place and the proposed one is it would focus more on what the city requires in new construction, rather than what is prohibited from being built, said Andy Hume, city downtown coordinator, at the meeting. Most development codes in the city have focused on “function, rather than form” and differentiate between types of uses, such as commercial and residential. While the proposed development code contains an element of that, it also says the form — the “look and feel” — of development is important, he said.
In the form-based mode, types of development could be mixed on the same parcel, such as a storefront on the first level of a building and residential spaces above, Hume said.
“Not that function isn’t important, but what this does is it says it’s actually fine to have small commercial mixed with residential,” he said. “It’s actually the way we developed our cities for many years. It’s fine to have your store owner live above the shop. It reintroduces a form of development that’s been sort of forgotten for a number of years.”
Hume said the proposal also would shift more responsibility for decisions to city administrators, as opposed to land-use boards.
“One of the things we hear many times is about delays in having to go to some of these administrative bodies,” he said.
For instance, Hume said, the city’s planning and zoning board meets monthly, and some projects must wait for meetings to learn whether they get approved.
“What we’re looking at is more administrative oversight,” he said.
Developers in favor
Cindy Hoffman of Steinborn & Associates Real Estate, told city councilors she’s received a lot of positive feedback about the proposed new code from people in the development community.
“It seems to be what our clients are wanting,” she said.
The proposed code would replace the Central Business District and Main Street Overlay codes in the city’s downtown, according to the city.
Hume said another aspect of the proposed code is new development wouldn’t need accompanying parking spaces. There’s a certain area within downtown that currently doesn’t have to provide parking spaces, but the area would be expanded under the proposal.
Hume said the proposed code also includes a “lot of graphics and tables,” which should be “much easier to read” and understand.
The development code redesign is the third of three major recommendations to jump-start downtown revitalization, Hume said. The first was a civic plaza, which is under construction, and the second is the conversion of the one-way Church and Water streets back into two-way routes, a planning process that’s underway.
Councilor Jack Eakman asked whether creating a new development code, given that it would be a new model of zoning for the city, will cause problems for staff who work in downtown planning and land-use, considering the rest of the city would be under a different model.
“I have experienced that sometimes two paradigms is very confusing for everyone,” he said.
Hume says he’d assist other city staff in interpreting the code.
“It is a paradigm shift; you are correct,” he said. “But it is one that staff is willing to roll up their sleeves and take on.”
Said Eakman: “I’ll be watching with great interest.”
Mayor Pro Tem Greg Smith said to a degree, city staff already have experience dealing with two types of zoning because there is a special zoning overlay in the downtown right now.
Hume said the city prefers that public comments on the proposal be submitted in writing. The document is in its third draft. Hume said the city planning and zoning commission will vote April 26 on whether to recommend it to the city council. The proposal is then set to go before the city council in May.
Residents can send comments to Andy Hume, downtown coordinator, at email@example.com, or Community Development, P.O. Box 20000, Las Cruces, NM, 88004, according to the city.
City councilors also heard updates Monday from four nonprofits that have contracts with the city, the Amador Hotel Foundation, the Downtown Las Cruces Partnership, the Doña Ana Arts Council and the Farmers & Crafts Market of Las Cruces.
The hotel foundation raises money and promotes restoration of the city-owned Amador Hotel, a historic building at the south end of the city’s downtown area. Foundation President Heather Pollard told councilors about $575,000 has been raised, including some appropriations from state lawmakers, toward the ongoing restoration project. Recently, carpeting that had been installed in the building by Doña Ana County government, which used the facility for years for office space, was ripped out, exposing some inlay designs on the wooden floor underneath, Pollard told councilors.
Arianna Parsons, executive director of the Downtown Las Cruces Partnership, said that organization is fielding increased inquiries from potential businesses considering locating downtown. She said there have been more inquiries in the first quarter of 2016 than all of 2015.
Market Manager Duane Mosley said the Farmers & Crafts Market of Las Cruces has seen heightened interest from people wanting to become temporary vendors at the market, which happens on Wednesday and Saturday mornings in the downtown area.
Councilor Ceil Levatino asked when the summertime evening markets are slated to start again. Mosley said the first one is expected in May.
Presenters with the Doña Ana Arts Council, which has a contract with the city to operate its historic Rio Grande Theatre in the downtown, told councilors they’ve had to support the operation with other funding from the organization, in addition to revenue provided to the group each year. Scott Breckner, president of the arts council, said a trend across the country is that it’s difficult for small nonprofit theaters to earn revenue. In Las Cruces, there are several theaters competing with one another, as well, he said. The group will have to consider whether to continue offering free shows, he said.
The city paid DAAC $120,000 in 2015 to run the theater.
By: Diana Alba Soular (Las Cruces Sun-News)
Click here to view source article.