CNJ staff photo: Tony Bullocks Brad Heath of Clovis signs in to vote at Precinct 18 while precinct clerk Pat Moody assists at Zia Elementary School during the affordable housing referendum Tuesday. Heath brought along his son, Brad Heath, 8, to provide him a lesson on his civic duty to vote.
The mood in the Assembly Room at City Hall was quiet and verging on somber as city officials watched the tally of votes against the Affordable Housing Ordinance grow on a white board.
Clovis voters defeated the ordinance Tuesday by a margin of more than 17 percent — with 1,972 voting against the measure and 1,385 voting in favor.
The special election came about from a negative referendum petition filed by the High Plains Patriots after the city commission approved the ordinance.
“We’re disappointed. It’s frustrating to work so hard on something (and have it fail),” Mayor Gayla Brumfield said after the votes had been tallied.
“We’re going to try to gather ‘round … Tomorrow we’ll start over and see what we need to do.”
The ordinance was aimed at implementing an affordable housing plan, which would have allowed the city to give city-owned property to private developers, grants for residential rehabilitation and weatherization projects, grants and loans for development of city-owned property in the downtown area and reduce permitting fees for housing projects for low-income residents.
Clovis Legislative and Community Relations Director Claire Burroughes said defeat of the ordinance was a setback for solving housing issues in the community, particularly housing for low-income workers and personnel at Cannon Air Force Base.
“It means we’re no further forward than we were yesterday,” she said. “All it means is (the affordable housing plan) will not happen. We will not be able to help Cannon Air Force Base with their housing (shortages).”
At the heart of the affordable housing issue was a plan to convert the abandoned Hotel Clovis into low-income housing.
City officials have said without the ordinance, the plans of developer Stephen Crozier of Tierra Realty LLC, will fall apart and he will lose federal tax credits because he is unable to bridge a funding gap in his $12.8 million project.
The city had planned to help bridge the up to $1.4 million gap through grants and loans.
“I don’t know where we go from here on that,” Brumfield said. “This was the first real possibility we’ve had to renovate it.”
The nine-story hotel, built in 1931 in the heart of downtown Clovis, has stood empty since 1983 when it fell into disrepair and closed.
Patriots President Tim Ashley said the victory was satisfying.
“You’re always happy when you realize you’re not by yourself on an issue,” he said. “It’s hard to convince people your taxes won’t go up when you’re out giving away public assets to private developers.
“I’m extremely pleased with the voter turnout,” he said. “A whole lot more people got involved in their government. Irregardless of how they felt on the issue, I’m happy that folks got plugged in. It restored some confidence that we are concerned with the community.”
Ashley said given the scope of the hotel project, he believes Tierra Realty can still find an independent source to bridge the funding gap —which city officials have said could be as little as $400,000 if the developer finds other grants — and complete the project.
“Surely he can go get a personal loan for $400,000 if he thinks this is a great project,” he said. “I can’t see that $400,000 on a 13 million dollar deal is a dealbreaker.
A total of 3,357 voted, representing just over 20 percent of those eligible to participate in the Tuesday election, compared to 14.23 percent — or 2,310 — who turned out to vote on a May 3 referendum election brought on by the Patriots to challenge an increase in gross receipts taxes.
Voters — by a 57 percent vote — ultimately passed the GRT increase, which was to be dedicated to the Eastern New Mexico Water Utility Authority for use on the Ute Water Pipeline Project.
Ashley said he believes the Tuesday election was a success for the Patriots because of inconsistent information given by officials regarding the ordinance and hotel plan, whereas in the GRT election, he thinks it voters were swayed by the crucial need for water and fear of property taxes being raised if the measure wasn’t passed.