Property Developers Say Las Cruces Arroyo Management Plan Will Hurt City Housing Market

Aug 1, 2014

Las Cruces city planner Carol McCall in the tunnels of a city managed arroyo underneath Sonama ranch blvd
Credit Simon Thompson

Whenever there is heavy rain an arroyo above the Linda Vista Estates housing development in Dona Ana County an arroyo runs like a river.

Octavio Vela's house is just yards away from it's flow. He is concerned about the damage it could do to his property.

"None of the potential problems were disclosed. The potential flooding issues and stuff like that were never disclosed it was just a matter of here is the property" he says

Whether it was a lack of research or it was willfully left undisclosed by developers, the arroyo was not factored into the development design plans that were presented to the county and ultimately approved.

The County Flood Commission has since acknowledged the arroyo was completely overlooked when the gave the development the go ahead.

As Las Cruces expands City Planner Carol McCall says ultimately it is the city that will inherit and have to manage these oversights.

"There is the possibility that you will buy property that you know will be washed away in a flash flood" she says.

The county and the city do have codes and ordinances related to storm water and arroyos but Mcall says the rules don't go far enough to stop developers from cutting corners and taking the cheapest options available.

"There should be something that says people cannot build in arroyos" she says.

So McCall is putting together a consolidated arroyo plan for the city. It is proposing more extensive drainage studies and flood assessments and raising requirements for flood control infrastructure.

In cases where land is not already privately owned the rules would establish buffer zones between arroyos and where houses could be built.

"Those are things that happen infrequently but when they do happen they are pretty serious" she says.

Property developer Max Bower is concerned about the extent of what is being proposed.

"The whole city is in an arroyo, if you want to back off enough on the lens" he says.

Bower says more rigorous regulations would lock up a lot of land in the city and dramatically increase the cost of building houses, costs that would be passed on to the consumer or all tax payers if the city ends up paying for the infrastructure.

"We are concerned that those are going to be costs and expenses that are going to be in excess of what this market can handle" he says.

But experience in Dona Ana County suggests the city rules may be needed to protect homeowners.

Octavio Vela says when he calls the Linda Vista Estates developer to take care of flooding issues the developer says he is retiring and moving to California.

"He is more or less trying to wash his hands of the whole thing. I suspect when he first started the subdivision he expected to come in build houses, develop the property and make a lot of money then move on" he says.

So now it is left to Vela to deal with the problem.

McCall says the plan being developed would hold developers more accountable for their work and provide resources for home buyers to be more informed about flood risk associated residential areas in the city.

"For someone who doesn't live here it is a challenge to learn everything that you need to know"
she says

"Storm water management and flood control are very, very complicated, technical topics and for the lay person it can be a little intimidating and overwhelming" she says.

At this point in time the Las Cruces arroyo management plan is just a guiding document and is still being developed. The city is taking input from developers, realtors and the public.

With the experience of county homeowners surrounded by arroyos, some say the effort is long overdue.