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Town Council Stymied by Question of Silver City's "Blight"

by Charlie McKee

Must the Town of Silver City declare itself ugly in order to obtain grant money for downtown improvements?  This was the quandary that faced the Town Council and occupied the majority of discussion during the two-hour regular meeting on Tuesday, Nov. 13, 2012.

During the Public Hearing portion of the meeting, the Council was asked to approve Resolution No. 2012-27, Metropolitan Redevelopment Area (MRA) Designation, which would accept "findings and determinations" to support the declaration of Silver City's historic downtown area as an MRA.  Once the MRA designation is established, the Town would then be eligible for certain state legislated funding opportunities for improvements in the designated area.

Charlie Deans of Community by Design in Santa Fe testified during the Public Hearing on behalf of Silver City's Community Development Department and presented the Designation Report for the MRA.  The Report included a map that designates the downtown areas to be included in the MRA and defines them as meeting the criteria required by the state to qualify as such.  These criteria include categories such as unsafe, low business volume, vacancy, and high unemployment.  The area can qualify in one or more categories.  Once the designation of the area is approved, the New Mexico Metropolitan Redevelopment Code empowers the Town to develop projects to eliminate blighted conditions in the form of zoning incentives, financial incentives (e.g. Tax Increment Financing, revenue bonds, etc.), and Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funds.  Deans pointed out that the legislation supports public/private partnerships to implement these projects.  The Town Council would then act as the board for the MRA.Deans emphasized that there is no downside to implementing the MRA.

At issue for the Town Councilors and the Mayor were several aspects of the Designation Report:  the description of the Town's historic center as a "slum" and a "blighted area"; the map of the designated area, which includes College Avenue to the University and Gough Park as part of the "blight"; and certain findings supporting the designation as MRA that are unlikely to be changed or improved (such as the high sidewalks on Yankie Street).

Mayor James Marshall was particularly disturbed with the conflict between Silver City's major investment in attracting tourism through MainStreet's and the Arts and Cultural District's "Find YourSelf in Silver City" efforts and the report's designation of the Town as a blighted slum.  Both Marshall and Councilor Cynthia Bettison stated that the map designating the area was too broad and that the report needed significant editing and refinement in order for them to support it.

Deans responded that the terms "blight" and "slum" are in the state statute and therefore required to be stated in the report.  However, there are multiple criteria by which the designated area can qualify as an MRA that do not carry the "blight" description.  He also pointed out that Albuquerque has had major successes through its implementation of more than 20 MRAs, including its downtown area, over the past 20 years.  Many of its areas are far larger than the one proposed for Silver City.  In addition, Deans reminded the Council that the proposed MRA map is the same as was defined by the committee that developed the downtown map for the Town's 2010 Downtown Action Plan, with the exception of the Hudson Street corridor which is a likely candidate for future MRA designation. He also stated that all the properties in the designated area are within commercially zoned areas.

Town Attorney Robert Scavron noted to the Council that the Resolution's approval would approve the findings of the Designation Report only and is not the approval of the area as a Metropolitan Redevelopment Area.  It is a decision to "label the Town as ugly in order to obtain funding."

Marshall and Bettison proposed that the Designation Report and its map be revisited and refined and be brought back to the Town Council for reevaluation at a later date.

Nick Seibel, Manager of Silver City MainStreet, then testified to the Council regarding the Designation Report.  He pointed out that his job is to promote Silver City's downtown, not to highlight its negative aspects.  He believes that the report should be viewed positively, as a "set of opportunities and a toolbox" to help the Town resolve longstanding problem areas.  Areas to which the Council objected as being included can significantly benefit from inclusion in the MRA, such as:

  • Silver City Library and College Avenue:  street lighting and sidewalk improvements;
  • Parking Area behind SCPD: upgrade as historic remains of Main Street leading to Big Ditch;
  • Gough Park & Shamrock Block: improvements as extension of Town Hall complex.

He stated that there was logic to the boundaries of the map, with vision for enhancing and improving the area over time.

Seibel continued to explain that the report mirrors the 2010 Downtown Action Plan and map and is consistent with the long-term goals of the Town and MainStreet.  He emphasized that it is a total "WIN" for Silver City in obtaining funding to better itself.  He made the point that the Town has an excellent track record for leveraging these kinds of funds to vastly improve the quality of life in the city and county.  Silver City has long been designated a "colonias" to qualify for similar funding, and the MRA designation simply augments that qualification to help the Town further its self-improvement.

At the conclusion of the Public Hearing testimony, the Council voted to continue the hearing at the Town Council meeting on Dec. 11, 2012.  In the meantime, the Council and Mayor requested that the Designation Report for Resolution No. 2012-27 be edited, made logical in its findings, and contain accurate photographs.

In the Unfinished Business portion of the meeting, the Council approved Resolution No. 2012-29, fixing the compensation for the Town Manager, Alex C. Brown, at $100,000 per year and authorizing the Mayor to negotiate and execute an employment contract between the Town and Brown.

In the New Business portion of the Council meeting, the following items were approved:

  • Two Public Celebration Permit Applications for the Mimbres Region Arts Council's Black Tie Benefit Ball on Dec. 15, 2012, at the Murray Hotel.
  • Resolution No. 2012-28 for the Regular Municipal Election on March 5, 2013, for Councilor of District 1 and Councilor of District 3.
  • Destruction of 213.5 boxes of records from the Executive, Finance, Municipal Court, Police, Recreation Center, Public Library, Community Development and Utilities Departments, according to state approved process by a bonded shredder.
  • Appointment of Jeffrey Hill to the Mayor's Climate Protection Agreement Citizens Advisory Committee.
  • Appointment of Suzanne Gershenson to the Historic Design Review Committee.

Lastly, Councilors Bettison (District 1) and José Ray, Jr. (District 3) announced their intentions to run for re-election in the March 2013 Municipal Election.

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