“What we heard,” said Susan Henderson, project manager for the PlaceMakers consulting team, “was a lot of frustration, especially from the farming families.”
Hatch is famous around the world for its chili and onions production. Tens of thousands of people travel every year to the village of some 1,700 people to celebrate its harvest festivals and to buy its famous products. So it’s no wonder farmers get a little hot under the collar when they feel their work is unappreciated.
“Many of their concerns,” said Henderson, “were about things the Comp Plan process can do nothing about — state and federal regulations, and the allocations of water. But some of what they wanted to talk about were things we can deal with as we tweak the final Comp Plan draft.”
For instance: The Plan can do a better job of acknowledging the role of commercial agricultural as a crucial economic development sector. And it can emphasize strategies that protect both those traditions and the options of farmers when it comes time to sell or subdivide their properties.
“Watch for those improvements in our final draft,” said Henderson.
The Wednesday-night dialog in Hatch was exactly what these Plan review meetings are all about. The session on Tuesday in Sunland Park responded to what the team sensed was residents’ needs to dig more deeply into the policy framework of the draft Comp Plan
and its implications for zoning. But on Wednesday night, when it was clear the room was divided between those who wanted a Sunland Park-type review and those who needed to focus on farming issues, Henderson threw out the standard format to make sure all the attendees’ concerns got the full attention of County staff and her team.
Those who wanted to learn more about the kinds of zoning implied by new Comp Plan policies heard about the opportunity the Village of Hatch has to mirror the County’s proposed Unified Development Code to better serve their redevelopment efforts after a flood that damaged their historic downtown.
That code, as it relates to the northern portion of the county, is applied to specific properties according to the proposed zoning map currently being considered and revised:
The old buildings that gave Hatch so much of its character can’t be rebuilt in their historic form, because the village had adopted a suburban-style zoning code requiring strip-mall type setbacks from the street. The County’s new UDC, which won’t be
automatically applied in the incorporated villages and towns, reestablishes the historic urban form for urban places. Henderson explained how simple and inexpensive it would be for Hatch to imitate the standards in a modest rezoning for its downtown.
Village of Hatch Mayor Andy Nuñez called the evening a necessary exercise in listening:
Thursday night, the team moves from the rural environs of Hatch to the most urban of places in the County — Las Cruces. There, they’ll alter the script again if attendees need a particular kind of discussion to aid their reviews of the new planning proposals. For details, go here.
Until then, here are pictures from the Hatch meeting: