Officials: Beautification ordinance not priority

Sharna Johnson

Curry County’s commissioners say creating an ordinance to address dilapidated or unkempt properties just isn’t a priority for the county right now. Critics say that is evidenced in the way the community looks.

That’s not to say the county hasn’t tried.

After more than two years of contention and revisions, an embattled ordinance designed to address public health and safety issues was put on hold in May 2010 when commissioners tabled it indefinitely because they were concerned it was unenforceable and potentially unconstitutional.

“We will address it at sometime, but the courthouse and jail are major issues (we have to address now) and you have to prioritize,” said Commissioner Wendell Bostwick.

The issue didn’t come up again until Jan. 13, when commissioners voted to abolish the Land Use Committee, created to make recommendations for public health and safety.

Bostwick and Commissioner Frank Blackburn served on the committee along with appointed community members.

“Basically we don’t have any charges for them at the present time,” Bostwick said. “If we need them, we’ll assemble them, but they’ve done what we charged them with.”

Blackburn, too, said the issue is not where the county’s attention is needed most right now.

“I believe it’s been pushed back to the back burner … I don’t believe this is a high priority; I don’t believe it should be at this time,” Blackburn said. “We’ve been working on this problem with the bond issues that failed, the adult detention center overcrowding and the inadequacy of the courtrooms we have. Those are major problems.”

County residents who have traditionally bucked anything smacking of zoning or property restrictions may breathe a sigh of relief to hear it’s not a front issue, especially James Priest.

“I feel stronger now than I ever did … the government’s getting where they want too much control,” he said.

Priest, whose property has been pointed to repeatedly as an eyesore, has long objected to interference by the county and thinks those who don’t like his property need to look the other way.

Priest owns an auction company and sells and consigns items scattered across his land, which fronts south Prince Street outside Clovis’ city limits.

“They have the same rights to feel like they want to, just like I do. I have no feeling about how they feel about it. I don’t care, I just want (to be) left alone,” he said.

While he’s glad commissioners have dropped the matter, not everyone is and the county and Priest still have their critics.

Beautification crusader Rose Riley said the city has worked toward cleaning up the community, but she’s frustrated by the lack of effort by county commissioners. She thinks they fear resistance from constituents.

“It’s better than it was a year ago on the inside of town, but the county hasn’t done anything and I don’t think our commissioners will ever do anything about that because they’re afraid they won’t be re-elected,” she said.

Priest’s property is among the worst and the most visible in Curry County, she said.

“To be honest with you, the county has done zero … I told those commissioners we needed somebody that has backbone,” she said. “(But) they couldn’t come together on a solution … They probably think that we’ve gone away but we haven’t.”

Commissioners disagree, saying they don’t make their decisions based on political fear but on priorities — the things their community members ask for and the things they believe the government should have a hand in.

Regulating property rights is touchy business, they acknowledged.

Even if the county does take up the ordinance again, Bostwick said it won’t be directed at community appearance because the goal needs to be preventing individuals from affecting the health and safety of their neighbors and nothing more.

“That’s such a subjective issue, (what looks nice). One man’s trash is another man’s treasure,” he said.

“Every city has issues and a beautification thing is nice, but it’s something you can’t legislate and the government can’t do. The community has to be a part of it; the government can never solve that whole problem.”

The county has found ways to make community involvement more possible, according to Assistant County Manager Connie Harrison.

Through a grant with New Mexico Clean and Beautiful, the county can help volunteer groups get money they need to clean up blighted or unsightly areas.

Harrison said money has already been used by volunteer groups in Texico, Melrose and other areas to clean cemeteries and roadways.

A median beautification committee with city and county representatives continues working to clean up and redesign medians along the entryways into Clovis, Harrison said.

The county suffered a setback after plans to apply for a $500,000 state grant to improve medians was halted when the county learned it couldn’t alter state-owned medians. Harrison said they again are looking to find money and a way to improve the way the community looks to motorists passing through.