Developing
4:36 am
Tue May 6, 2014

Residents Fear Proposed Shopping Mall Will Ruin Recreation Area Near Tortugas Mountain

Tortugas - or ‘A’ mountain is a popular recreation spot for locals and visitors to go camping, hiking and mountain biking. A proposed commercial zoning of a parcel of land near the base of the mountain could introduce big changes in the area. As Simon Thompson reports rules that govern zoning are making it difficult for the lands owners and residents opposed to development to find common ground.
Credit Simon Thompson

Peter Goodman lives in a community not far from Tortugas Mountain.  He says views of the open desert, rural areas and the mountain were some of the things that convinced him to put down roots in the Mesilla Valley.

“the idea that I could actually take lunch and go up on there and picnic or even have a short hike- that close to the university – and then get back to it – that would be an  attractive point” he says.

Goodman is fighting a proposed retail development near the base of Tortugas mountain- He says…it’s going to ruin the natural area…just outside the city. And he adds…there are better places for that kind of development.

‘If you think about the camping- or something or hiking or enjoying - enjoying nature you don’t really want a McDonald's and a hotel and whatever else. ’  he says.

Pamela Carmody and her family have owned on a mining operation on the property for 70 years.  Now…she wants the same land to be approved for retail development.

“The opposition has had difficulty meeting us halfway on anything, they want nothing there so that's a very difficult position to be in” She says.

Nearby resident and former County Commission Chair Karen Perez says she’s concerned commercial zoning would open the flood gates for the whole surrounding area to be developed. Perez has repeatedly petitioned the Dona Ana County Zoning Commission to consider a zone classification that would work as a compromise - letting the owners bring value to the property in a way that is consistent with the natural surroundings. 

“Open space recreation zoning allows for commercial development but as commercial development that is consistent with recreation – so they look at  recreation facilities tennis courts swimming pools - greenhouses agricultural development rodeo grounds consistent with the NMSU rodeo grounds” she says.

Dona Ana County Director of Community Development Daniel Hortert says open space recreation zoning might be feasible in the City of Las Cruces…but in the 5 mile buffer area between the city and the county there are only 3 zoning options. Given the busy road next to the land and the NMSU master development plan – he says commercial is most appropriate.

“Are they great codes? no!  Are they workable codes ? Yeah, to the extent and ability – of administering the codes” he says.

The land in question is in the ETZ…the extra territorial zoning area. The ETZ Commission oversees development in a five-mile area that rings the city of Las Cruces. Hortert says Dona Ana County has plans to let the area be administered by the county and the city.But until that happens –new zoning classifications would require amendments to ETZ ordinances….and Hortert says it might be too late for that.

“We can’t just Willy nilly come up and with and create a zoning district that the residents or the property owner of the surrounding area like - without taking away the arm the legalities of development from the property owner” he says.

Hortert is concerned – that a court of law would consider any imposition of new zones ‘a taking’ or unfair downgrading the property’s value.

Perez says there are other considerations.

“You don't perpetuate a bad decision because you you're not looking at something new you don't come in and say well I don’t Have  anything else I may do the wrong thing, do the right thing- it it takes a little more effort is to take some creativity is to take some work but the reason that the train has left the station is because they didn't look at what the zoning authority ask them to” she says.

For now a commercial zoning request has been denied.   But the property owners are expected to appeal.Residents hope the land’s natural beauty can be preserved.