Council upholds P&Z decision

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By Jennifer Garcia

County Council heard an appeal at Tuesday night’s meeting regarding architectural design standards.

Before the appeal was heard however, council recognized the county’s Pavement Division for the awards they won and their participation in the First Annual New Mexico Association of Counties’ Public Works Affiliate Equipment ROADEO. Lino Salazar and Billy Vigil of the county’s Pavement Division accepted the award from Councilor Sharon Stover.

“We had a terrific crew representing us. There were six other counties competing and our guys came through on skid steer and backhoe,” Stover said. “Lino was awarded first place in skid steer and Billy competed in the wheel loader competition, while Scott (Halder) competed in backhoe. Thank you for representing us and bringing home first place,” she continued.

The Office of Management and Budget was also recognized Tuesday night for winning two awards for excellence in financial reporting and budget presentations from the Government Finance Officers Association. Budget Analyst Gina Coluzzi accepted the awards.

Councilor Nona Bowman read the recognition document. “It gives me great pleasure to give this to you. Tell the whole staff how much we appreciate them,” she said.

Coluzzi spoke briefly after accepting the awards. “Thank you and all the county staff for this award and for acknowledging that the whole OMB division does a lot of work and they should all be recognized,” she said.

The appeal council heard was made by John Courtright, whose family owns J&L Self Storage, located behind McDonald’s. Though testimony was not heard from either Courtright or Rick Bohn, who was representing the Community Development Division, each were given the opportunity to speak during the hearing.

 “When we bought this lot we bought it with the intention that we’d expand the self-storage business. The code was changed a couple years ago and we had bought it prior to that change, so that’s what brought us to the point of asking for a waiver from the P&Z (Planning and Zoning) for this piece of property,” Courtright said.

Courtright said the business is similar to what’s already been established. “It’s a service center type of business. We’re not putting something there that doesn’t already fit in with the neighbors,” he pointed out.

“Based on that, we felt it was an ideal place to put some more storage units in. Under the development code, there’s no outside storage permit for that area and it would be an economical way for us to do something with that piece of ground … What we want to put up is similar in fashion to what’s already there,” he continued.

Council Vice Chair Mike Wismer asked Courtright if the reason he cannot comply with the architectural standards has to do with the cost.

However, County Attorney Mary McInerny interjected before Courtright could answer and reminded Wismer that Courtright was not giving testimony.

“You have to rephrase the question and have him speak as to why the P&Z violated the code, but you can’t go to his testimony,” she said.

Wismer rephrased the question. “If the building can’t be seen from the public view, they don’t have to comply, so I’m trying to understand the criteria that was used on the code. Are you confirming it was because of financial reasons that you didn’t comply with architectural standards?”

Courtright responded to Wismer by saying, “Why would I make it a really fancy building if you can’t see it from the road? Yeah, it’s a money situation, but I guess I don’t know how else to answer. Yeah, bucks is bucks. I understood their position when it was presented to me. I thought it was a waiver for the architectural standards because they think you can see it. So no, I don’t want to spend the money to make it fancier when I’m the only one that can see it.”

Bohn said there was discussion at P&Z of possible ways, even with a metal building, that it could still comply. “The P&Z believes the decision was in accordance with the adoptive plans,” Bohn said.

More questions regarding visibility were posed and Bohn defended the P&Z’s decision. After asking for and receiving no further rebuttals or statements, Council Chair Michael Wheeler closed the appeal hearing. Wheeler’s action was followed by a motion made by Bowman, who agreed with the P&Z’s decision. Wismer seconded the motion and it passed 7-0.

Though he voted for the motion, Chiravalle said he did so with a heavy heart. “I feel the problem here is not the P&Z. Based on the evidence they were presented, they arrived at the right conclusion. Our code is too restrictive. The code is going to put a burden on the appellant. We should consider changing the code to allow an exemption for new buildings that are not visible to the public.” Gibson and Stover agreed with Chiravalle.

“These downtown standards were adopted a few years ago and there was interest from a good deal of the public to apply them to existing buildings and that was defeated in order to satisfy the business community, but I have to conclude that P&Z did the right thing here. To continue building warehouses and storage units on prime county property doesn’t make sense,” Wheeler said. “So even though they ‘re permitted under special use, they at least have to be attractive and meet design standards of the county.”