After again getting an earful from residents, Lovington leaders adopted a controversial ordinance Monday allowing the city to levy fines of up to $500 per day for certain properties with weeds, debris or graffiti.
The Lovington City Commission voted 4-1 in favor of Ordinance 569 with Commissioner Arthur Sanchez casting the dissenting vote.
The ordinance creates the “E” economic district along Main Street between Avenue R and Love Street, and along Avenue D between 17th and Commercial streets and allows the city to assess fines of up to $500 per day for zoning violations.
The ordinance will require the exteriors of the properties in the economic district to be kept “free of weeds, overgrown brush, dead vegetation, trash, junk, debris, building materials, an accumulation of newspapers, circulars, flyers, notices” and discarded personal items, and that the “exteriors of the property shall be maintained free of graffiti or similar markings by removal or painting over with an exterior grade paint that matches the exterior color of the structure.”
In April, the City Commission approved an amendment to a proposed zoning law that will allow homeowners to sell their homes to their children and others. The amendment will allow the continued use of existing single-family homes within the zoning district for homes constructed prior to Jan. 1, 2019, as long as they comply with the maintenance and security requirements specified in the ordinance. If a single-family home is converted for any another use permitted in the ordinance, it may not be reverted back to a residential use, the revised ordinance states.
The City Commission last month also approved amendments that will require commercial property owners in the zoning district to patch holes in their parking lots and parking lot entrances, and an amendment that removes a requirement that property owners living out of town contract with a property management company for maintenance.
Even with the amendments, several Lovington residents expressed opposition to the ordinance Monday night before the City Commission voted on it.
Vernon Dant said he wanted to see copy of amendment in writing before the vote. City leaders said the proposed ordinance had been publicly available on the city’s website for over a month, and Dant was provided a hard copy.
“I clearly understand why you or anybody else would have their emotions run pretty high when it involves your home,” said Mayor David Trujillo. “We clearly understand that, that’s why we did address that because I would clearly feel the same way.”
Barry Miller expressed his opposition to the proposed ordinance before it was voted on.
“I think that freedom is a very tedious thing and I feel that this will cringe on my freedoms by having these laws in this area,” Miller said. “I really wish you would reconsider. Because if I were up there, I would have to hate freedom to support this.”
Commissioner Scotty Gandy asked how the ordinance would suppress Miller’s freedoms.
“Well, anytime you have the government telling you how much paint can peel and when to paint it and whether the colors coordinate or not, it’s just government-run,” Miller replied. “And that’s not freedom. If government’s running it, I’m not.”
Among the building maintenance requirements, the ordinance requires no more than 10 percent of an exterior facade may exhibit peeling paint, damaged stucco, or other deteriorated surfaces. The ordinance also prohibits any structure with awnings that have more than 30 percent of the “surface area, torn, tattered, or missing for a period of more than 30 consecutive days.”
“Everyone has a different ideal on what standards are,” Gandy said. “There’s a couple of eyesores in town we can all agree on. If we’re just trying to standardize something to a certain degree, so we have consistent flow throughout the community, I don’t see that being an infringement on your rights, it’s just trying to keep a standard where we all can live with it where it’s not too low and not too overbearingly high.”
Gandy said Lovington’s building requirements are not as strict as those in Santa Fe.
“Now, they’re a little pushy,” Gandy said. “We’re just asking a few things to try and keep a zone a certain way so we don’t have this hodgepodge where everybody can do whatever they want.”
Gandy asked Miller if he would be OK with a multi-million-dollar house built next to a pigsty.
“Yeah, exactly, that’s freedom,” Miller replied, adding different people have different standards. “Just because you think that I’m ugly doesn’t mean that I’m going to get plastic surgery, you see what I’m saying, because that’s my individual right. So my property may be ugly, but it’s mine. And if you pass this I will not feel secure in my property.”
Gandy said Lovington has four zoning classifications, with a broad interpretation of commercial zoning.
“But what has happened over the decades, with freedom and my rights, they’ve taken that and abused it and now turned commercial property into something that is not commercial, it’s residential,” Gandy said. “We’re just trying to narrow that scope a little bit. I understand your concerns, but as a commissioner, mine is trying to give the town a certain look or appeal that may not agree with you or other people in the community. We’re trying to draw in people who would find something attractive.”
Gandy said a certain house is considered an eyesore by a majority of town leaders.
“But he considers it his home, his property and stuff is falling over the fence and is stacked up,” Gandy said. “We’re trying to encompass a certain look when you get into a certain district in our town instead of a hodgepodge mix and match.”
Sanchez noted people would be upset if residents still used outhouses.
“We’re just trying to improve the town by taking those out and doing something nice so it will be more presentable for people,” Sanchez said. “This is kind of something like that.”
Miller said town leaders were over-reaching.
“I think some of the things y’all are doing are way outside of your scope.” Miller said, adding he has no city sewer service at his home. “You want to punish me because I don’t look pretty enough. The responsibilities you have, I see them as failures. The last six weeks you’ve failed at garbage drastically, neighbors that we can’t get their garbage picked up.
“You failed on water, you failed on sewer, you’ve failed on trash, three of your main things. You’re saying just because I don’t look pretty, you’re going to fine me.”
Some residents presented city leaders a petition against the ordinance.
Commissioner Paul Campos asked which specific constitutional rights the ordinance would suppress.
Miller said he can’t be secure in his possessions.
“You can fine me, you can put liens on my property, if I don’t look pretty enough,” Miller said.
Joyce Dant of 1300 N. Main St. said she’s concerned about the vacant lots in town.
“What are you going to do about the vacant lots when you guys are so worried about the homes and the businesses looking like crap or whatever?” she asked. “The vacant lots look like crap and that is unappealing to people when they come into town and see vacant lots like this. We have them on both sides of our home and they’re not being kept up at all.”
Billy Waldron said he also has a property that would be affected.
“I have read this thing from top to bottom and all I can see is crushing fines, fines to the degree of forcing somebody out of their property,” Waldron said. “I see nothing in it anywhere that encourages new business. It creates situations that new businesses really don’t want to be a part of it. I don’t understand what the fantasy is that fines are going to create a pretty city.”
The ordinance states the economic district is being created to “foster civic pride, maintain and improve property values, enhance the community’s attraction to tourists and visitors, prevent urban blight and increase municipal revenues.”
All buildings or premises along the two streets would have to be professional offices, city-owned or operated parks and playgrounds, government-owned or operated buildings, churches, multiple unit apartments, hospitals and clinics, hotels or motels, and retail businesses or facilities that generate gross receipts tax revenues.
As initially drafted, prohibited uses within the E economic district would have included single-family dwellings, mobile homes or manufactured homes, recreational vehicles, manufactured home parks and truck parking lots. Before being amended, single-family homes within the economic district would have only been allowable until the property changes ownership.
Thirteen single-family houses on Avenue D and seven homes on Main Street would have been impacted.
The ordinance makes it unlawful to park a tractor-trailer rig, freight trailer, bus, hazardous cargo vehicle, or other vehicle with a gross weight of over 15,000 pounds on streets, alleys, public rights of way and easements, or upon property located within the zone, with exceptions for loading and unloading purposes.
City Manager James Williams said the fines are only intended for those who refuse to comply with the new standards.
“We have no authority over the (municipal) judge,” Williams said. “As far as working with that owner to get cleanup or whether or not she assesses him a financial penalty, that is totally at her discretion.”
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