Eyesore on Main
Since June of 2013
A topic that has come up several times during the campaign for mayor this year is the "eyesore" at 430 S. Main. I agree: it is an eyesore, particularly because it is adjacent to so much that is starting to look great downtown. The reasons it is still looking so bad point to two needs I will address as the next mayor: a need for vision and a need for leadership.
We do currently have a nuisance ordinance pertaining to properties that can be seen as hazards. Still, as long as the owner or those leasing it are keeping it fenced and boarded, the City has little basis under current ordinances for claiming the property is a hazard.
I have been working with the Historic Preservation Ad Hoc Committee on the ordinance currently being reviewed by the public and the Planning and Zoning Commission before it comes to the Council for a vote. What I have planned to pursue, after we've established the Historic Preservation Ordinance, are two related ordinances pertaining to outdated signs and to abandoned properties.
What I didn't anticipate, five years ago, when Councilor Silva and I, among others, started work on this second historic preservation ordinance effort, was the time it was going to take to get that ordinance in place. Part of what we've had to work around was open resistance from the current mayor the first time we sought to establish such an ordinance and the residual impression that he is still in opposition as we have worked on this second effort that has included Councilor Silva's successor, Councilor Gandara.
That said, we have two choices with properties like this one under current law: acquire them through a purchase or a trade, or acquire them through condemnation or eminent domain. An effort to purchase this property is part of the history below.
In all fairness, though, it must be said that we also have a problem with any law we enact now or in the future being able to be enforced for a situation that existed without penalty prior to the law. This is often called "grandfathering," and because of "grandfathered" situations, it can be difficult to "fix" existing situations like this one with new laws.
How we can get the desired result while avoiding having to condemn properties or acquire them through eminent domain, will be one focus of I-Cubed, my Innovative Infill Initiative(s), as mayor.
Except for the 911 Call Center (MVRDA), the County vacated this property and its other properties nearby (the old County Courthouse and the Amador Hotel) in 2006. The City purchased the Amador Hotel in 2007, and the current owner of the "eyesore" purchased it in 2008 from Doña Ana County, along with a building that has since been torn down and the old County Courthouse.
The property's owner obtained a building permit for 430 S. Main in 2010, but let it lapse when he suspended work in 2013. He claimed there was an issue with the City and stopped work at the end of May of that year. I asked the owner directly about what the issue was. What he told me was that the City had an easement through the middle of the property that was problematic.
I checked with the city manager at that time, and I was told that the City could easily "vacate" the easement, no problem. However, at that time, the 911 Call Center was still in an adjacent building that required parking spaces, and even though 430 S. Main's owner claimed to me that the parking situation was not an issue, I heard others assert that that was a bone of contention for him.
Yet, even after the Call Center moved to its new location in 2016 and that should no longer have been a sticking point, the last three years have seen little altered in the situation at 430 S. Main, except changing stories about restaurants that are supposed to be opening there.
In 2018, the City did pursue getting appraisals on the property with the intention of buying it if we could settle on an acceptable price with the owner. There has, to this point, been no indication that negotiations have moved anywhere on that property.
As mayor, this property and similar situations will be a priority for me. Not only will I include it as a priority in my first State of the City Address, but I will also work with the owner, those leasing the property, and the community to ensure that we take the challenge presented by this "eyesore" and generate a result that is an asset for Las Cruces.