Blight battle: Proposed ordinances met strong resistance

CNJ staff photo: Sharna Johnson County Commissioner Frank Blackburn said a proposed county ordinance will focus on health and safety.

By Sharna Johnson: CNJ staff writer

Margaret Dindinger was embarrassed by property infested with weeds, junk cars and falling-down buildings.

So in February 2008, the Clovis native gathered 70 signatures on a petition asking Curry County commissioners to do something about cleaning up the entryways into Clovis.

Almost two years later, the commission’s nuisance ordinance is still in the planning stage because private property owners have loudly voiced opposition.

Those with agriculture interests say they’re already burdened with too many restrictions from state and federal governments. Other residents worry they will be penalized for trash and litter that is either dumped or blown onto their property.

Twice last year, commissioners introduced proposals to address rural blight. Twice, they were shouted down.

Most recently in August, more than 100 angry and defensive residents heckled and booed commissioners and cheered those who spoke out against the proposed ordinance.

Commissioners tabled the matter but said they would try again early this year.

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Efforts to regulate private property in Curry County go back at least a decade.

In 2000, Clovis adopted an extraterritorial zoning ordinance forcing construction standards and code enforcement one mile beyond city limits.

The idea was to ensure uniformity so residents on the outskirts of the city limits could use city utilities.

The measure, allowed by state laws, met with enormous resistance and a fight from county residents who didn’t get to vote and didn’t welcome the intrusion.

“The county residents, especially, thought that the city was trying to force zoning regulations on them and mandate what they could do on their property,” city Manager Joe Thomas recalled.

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The August version of the county’s nuisance ordinance did not establish standards of appearance or zoning.

It would have required residents to fix any health or safety issues on their property — standing water, rubbish or conditions that contribute to vermin and disease-carrying insects.

Under that proposed ordinance, violators could be cited and fined and it would be enforced by the sheriff’s office.

Now, officials said the ordinance is being retooled by a committee of commissioners and county residents.

Commissioner and committee member Frank Blackburn said little has changed through the revisions of the ordinance, and its spirit and intent remain the same. The committee believes the controversy arose because the ordinance was too cumbersome, which caused confusion and misunderstanding.

The committee also has concluded an enforcement officer would need to be hired instead of taxing law enforcement with it. Who would supervise that officer has yet to be determined.

A farmer and Curry County native, Blackburn sees no threat to his freedoms as a property owner. He said the ordinance is strictly intended to address issues that will have a negative impact on health and safety of residents.

Blackburn said the latest version of the ordinance is still being reviewed. He expects it to go before the commission again sometime this spring.

Dindinger, meanwhile, said the county’s plans have escalated well beyond her initial concept for change.

“My intention was not to get somebody fined $500 to clean up their property,” she said.

“I kind of thought it was a little over the top. All I asked for was to clean up the entrances (to the city). I didn’t ask them to police the whole county.”

She’s still embarrassed by the entryways, particularly along U.S. 60/84 near Cannon Air Force Base.

“What I hated was we worked so hard to keep our base — and it’s not right you work so hard to keep them here and it’s still the same way it was,” she said.