Building boom room sought

By Jack King

Local developers say Clovis is on the brink of a residential building boom, but the city must relax some zoning requirements or the boom could fizzle.
Planning and Zoning commissioners said the requested changes should not lead to loosening all zoning requirements.
The change requests will be discussed at the commission’s next meeting, March 10 in City Hall.
Clovis builder John Bourne said those who want to build apartments in the city are stymied by the fact that zoning rules limit them to 14 units an acre. Builders want the city to eliminate the density requirement and, instead, use requirements for parking spaces, open areas and landscaping to control the size of apartment building, he said.
The current zoning requirements were established in 1996, when Chicago-based consultant Lane Kendig Inc. helped the city update its rules. Bourne said builders only recently discovered the density requirement, because they only recently began to investigate building new apartments in Clovis.
“Most everyone agrees that until recently we have not required numerous residential rental properties, but with the influx of new industry and retail businesses, we realize we have inadequate housing to meet the needs of the community,” he said.
“Land costs for multi-family units have risen to the point where, if the density ordinance is not changed or eliminated, it will not be profitable to build these necessary units,” he added.
“If there’s a reason (for the density requirements), we need to know the reason,” said builder Bobby Newman. “With the current regulation, you could have adequate parking, landscaping and open space (for an apartment building) and still have a lot of extra land.
“It looks like it would be so much easier if, for example, the planners said you’ve got to have 25 spaces for parking, 12 percent total landscaping, so much open space, and so forth,” he said.
Builders also want city planners to reduce the required size of single-family houses’ rear setbacks — the distance from a rear property line to the building, Newman added.
Currently there often isn’t enough room on available lots for families who want three- or four-car garages attached to their houses to meet city setback requirements. Yet, certain types of houses — “atrium houses,” where the garage opens onto the alley can be built to the property line, he said.
“You have 20 feet across alleys and 10 feet on either side (of a house). If there’s no fire hazard or encroachment on another person, why should the setback not be my business?” he asked.
Planning and Zoning Commissioner Bill Bollinger said the density and setback requirements were established to help Clovis maintain a desireable amount of open living space. Density requirements for apartments can be fine-tuned, but builders may want to relax limits until they are eliminated altogether.
“The bulk of this is being driven by the need for bigger, better, larger homes on the same size lots. They want to jerk the foundation out of the whole plan — and that’s not what the city has tried to do in years past,” he said.
Jose Garza, who is both a city commissioner and a Planning and Zoning commissioner, said builders need to provide more specifics about the changes they want.
“There are certain rules and regulations that are really out of whack and need to be changed. But that doesn’t mean we’re going to give them a green light for all changes,” he said.
Alamogordo City Planner Sharon Few and Roswell City Planner Zack Montgomery said their cities set limits on density and setbacks. But the two cities differ in the strictness of their limits.
Few said Alamogordo allows apartments to have one unit for every 2,000 square feet, with a maximum of 21 units per acre. Rear setback must be 30 feet, or 20 percent of the property, whichever is less, she said.
Montgomery said Roswell limits apartments to 16 units per acre. It requires 20-foot rear setbacks for attached parts of the house. Detached garages or storage sheds can be closer to the property line.
Las Cruces City Planner Robert Kyle said his city doesn’t set a density ratio for apartments. Instead, planners rely on the size of the property, parking, landscape and ponding requirements and the comments of surrounding neighbors. The process puts an extra burden on builders to properly design a project, he said.