Belen officials concerned by blighted properties

........................................................................................................................................................................................

In an effort to beautify the Hub City, Belen officials are once again trying to work with homeowners before the city is forced to demolish their property.

In the past few years, the Belen City Council approved nuisance abatement resolutions in order to specifically demolish several single-family residences as well as the vacant Freeway Inn on South Main Street.

City officials said while it's a hard decision, these buildings were dilapidated and a safety problem.

Steve Tomita, the city's planning and zoning director, presented a list of 10 properties within the city limits that could be targeted for demolition.

He said while the list, compiled by Lisa Miller, the city's zoning enforcement specialist, was her recommendation, he asked the council to review the list and make its suggestions.

During Monday night's council meeting, Tomita said the structures in question are listed in order, with the top five a priority.

"The top two have been burned," Tomita said, "and the other ones have been falling down, they have structural damage and are a threat to people and neighbors."

The list, in order of priority, includes:

• 1042 E. River Road, which has been burned;

• 213 W. Aragon Road, which has been burned;

• 925 Cavalier, which is falling down;

• 312 S. Third St., which has structural problems;

• A home on West Chavez, which is torn up inside and is falling down;

• 124 S. 10th St.;

• 701 N. Fifth St.;

• 100. W. Reinken, the Kuhn Hotel;

• 1224 S. Main St.

Tomita said Miller has been sending out vacant building notices to property owners asking them if they were planning on fixing them up or tearing them down. He said she hasn't been getting the response she would like and is planning on issuing citations.

"Maybe that will get their attention and force them to decide if they want to fix up their buildings, tear them down, sell them or do whatever they want to do with them," Tomita said.

If the property owners don't have the funds to repair or demolish the buildings themselves, Tomita said, the city would place liens on the properties for the full amount to take the buildings down. He said the council allocated $100,000 in this year's budget for funding several demolitions.

"It's a slow process to collect the liens," Tomita said. "But as we do more and we enforce the vacant building ordinance, I think we'll see some more activity."

He also said the problem with some of these buildings is that they might have asbestos and other hazards. He said they would have to investigate the properties before the city would consider demolition.

Councilor David Carter said he did look at the list and actually drove around to see some of the recommended properties.

"I agree with her ranking, and I can see that some of these structural damages are a big concern," Carter said. "Let's get after it and make these a priority."

Councilor Jerah Cordova said there is another property on Camino del Llano he would like added to the list.

"It's got a west-facing wall that's collapsing," Cordova said. "I think it's a pretty serious problem. There are two vacant homes there, and the wall is just crumbling and caving in."

He also mentioned another property on West Aragon near 11th Street, but said it was in the county limits. Councilor Audrey Vallejos agreed, saying the house has been boarded up and is a fire hazard with a lot of trees and weeds.

Cordova is also concerned about at least one structure on the list that could be considered a historic building.

"Before we move on a historic structure like the Kuhn Hotel, I want to make sure that the public is fully notified that this might be coming," he said, "so that those who are interested in historic preservation have the opportunity to try and make something happen before we demolish a historic structure like that."

Councilor Wayne Gallegos said once the list gets out, it might raise a lot of red flags with people coming to the city and saying that their property is historic and shouldn't be knocked down.

Tomita told Gallegos that under the vacant building ordinance, a property owner must bring a plan to the city and a timeline of what they what they plan to do.

"And then, we don't want buildings torn down all over the place or else we'll basically look like a vacant city," Tomita said.


-- Email the author at cgarcia@news-bulletin.com.