Alibi V.13 No.11 • March 11-17, 2004 

Council Watch

Launchin' on the Grass

John Day, testifying before the City Council on March 1, was sued by the Coachman Estates homeowners’ association for xeriscaping his yard.
Singeli Agnew

At the March 1 meeting, councilors came in like lions, ripping through legislation with the gusto of a hungry pride ripping through a dead gazelle. The big item of the evening was Councilor Martin Heinrich's xeriscaping bill.

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IssueCouncil's TakeReporter's Take
Many local property owners' covenants force members to plant large amounts of turf that demand heavy watering. At the same time the city encourages homeowners to xeriscape their property with native plants that don't require much water.

Homeowners who replace their lawns with native plants have been sued by property owners associations. Heinrich's bill allows homeowners who want to switch to xeriscaping to do so even if current covenants demand water-hungry grass. The bill also allows rain barrels and efficient irrigation systems. Property covenants can still demand up to 20 percent high water use turf. An amendment blocked the changes from weakening other covenant restrictions.

Fifteen speakers supported the bill, six opposed and one went off-topic. Supporters protested having to pay high water bills for turf they didn't want, during a drought. Opponents cited the danger to property rights of breaching covenants. One guitar-toting bill supporter sang, "I've got mine. To hell with all the rest of you." Representing the administration, Charles Kolberg said the bill was neither unprecedented nor unconstitutional. He said the bill gave homeowners more rights rather than impairing rights, and that preserving the aquifer was a legitimate public purpose that could override private covenants. At Councilor Sally Mayer's urging, Heinrich amended the bill to allow 90 days before it goes into effect so property owners' associations can change their covenants. The bill passed 6-3, Mayer, Cummins and Loy opposed. I'm a little surprised that the real estate bloc of the Council opposed the measure, since they usually support anything that allows more construction. While this bill won't necessarily encourage development, running out of water will definitely discourage Albuquerque subdivisions from spreading over everything that's not reservation land. Heinrich's bill doesn't restrict what you can do with your own property, it just restricts what your neighbors can force you to do with your property. Since covenants can still require design committee approval for individual landscaping plans, neighborhoods can block ugly rocks-on-plastic schemes in favor of attractive xeriscape layouts.
A bill originally introduced by former Councilor Greg Payne (no wonder he raved about it in his column!) and carried by Council President Michael Cadigan clarifies street-related definitions, allows alleys, and sets standards for street plantings, sidewalk and road widths, and traffic calming devices.
Cadigan noted that representatives from 1,000 Friends of New Mexico and the National Association of Industrial and Office Properties supported the bill, which may be an indication that world peace is possible. The bill passed without dissenting votes. One aim of the bill is to facilitate walking, which would solve a host of problems, but be sure you put on sunscreen, or better yet, wear a hat. Getting totally tanned and buff doesn't do you much good if you develop melanoma in the process.
The Alibi has been following developer D. McCall's plan to build houses along the west bank of the Rio Grande north of the Montaño Bridge. Cadigan's bill authorizes the city to use up to $10 million from the Open Space Trust Fund to purchase the threatened land.
Cadigan said the bill set up a contingency fund only to be used as a last resort. First the city would try to use money allocated by the governor or from the sale of city owned surplus land in other parts of the state. The bill passed unanimously. McCall calls his scheme the Bosque Wilderness Subdivision. Why do these outfits name their subdivisions for whatever they destroyed to build them? What about more accurate monikers like Vista del Gusano or Acequia Sucia or Las Vegas del Asfalto?
Cadigan's bill put a 30-day moratorium on issuing permits for walls along Westside streets until new design guidelines are in place. The bill allows for immediate repair of damaged walls, clarifies that only walls along streets are affected, and gives the Planning Commission director the say-so on projects currently before the commission.
Cadigan showed photos of some really ugly walls he called "graffiti magnets." Development industry representatives opposed the moratorium. Chief Administrative Officer Jay Czar said the city was taking corrective action because, "We had not seen walls of this nature before." The bill passed without dissenting votes. What is it with Albuquerque and yard walls? One speaker noted that out-of-state visitors, encountering our local wall culture, asked her what was wrong, since they'd only seen comparable barriers around their state prison.
Late at night with the kiddies safely in bed, The Council took up an administration proposal for a moratorium on adult entertainment businesses. Seems that court challenges have chipped away at the current ordinance until it is almost useless.
City Attorney Bob White said that completely banning such places violated protected speech. The Council unanimously passed the bill enforcing a 90-day moratorium while the city is writing a new ordinance focused on using zoning to limit adult establishments. Oh ... fill in your favorite pole-dancing joke. Extra points if you can work in the phrases "90-day stay" and "not within 1,000 feet of a school or church."