Specialist: Mixed-use zoning can revitalize downtown
April 26, 2023
A revitalization specialist from New Mexico MainStreet explained how mixed-use zoning in downtown Tucumcari could lead to additional residential and commercial development there.
Rhea Serna gave a presentation last Tuesday at City Hall she said is a culmination of 3 1/2 years of research with Tucumcari MainStreet executive director Connie Loveland.
Serna said if the city adopted a mixed-use zoning overlay in downtown, it would lead to more residential living on the second floor of historic buildings along with commercial or light industrial uses on the ground floor.
Tucumcari enacted a Metropolitan Redevelopment Area in 2017 of downtown that generally includes Adams to Fourth Street from the east to west and Railroad Avenue to High Street from the north and south, with a couple of small additions. Downtown zoning includes commercial, retail, government and industrial, with no residential.
Serna said the city's current zoning structure hinders development. Mixed-use zoning, she said, would help pave the way to more entertainment options, restaurants and people living in downtown in a walkable environment.
The presentation noted many smaller cities in New Mexico have begun to encourage live/work units where residents operate businesses from their homes. Building owners also would be able to lease space for other uses.
She said mixed-used zoning, in a way, is a throwback to 100 years ago where such residential-commercial combinations in downtown buildings were common, before zoning existed.
New development in the downtown area sometimes requires a conditional use permit or rezoning. Because no residential use is allowed in downtown due to zoning restrictions, those prevent Airbnb sites there.
Parking requirements for businesses also make developments there less attractive, she said.
Serna said mixed-use zoning cuts through red tape for many developers and often helps with financing.
As an example, Serna said the VFW Post 2528 building was residential in its second floor many years ago. She said the VFW wants to offer short-term rentals in that space to veterans.
The presentation also showed the vacant Ford dealership, which stated it holds potential as a live/work space.
Robert Moore, who recently acquired the Massey Company building near the railroad depot, said a mixed-use overlay would help him with possible plans of a restaurant on the ground floor and a hotel on the second floor.
Serna said an unnamed developer wanted to establish a business in Tucumcari but went elsewhere because it lacked mixed-use zoning.
Tucumcari MainStreet compiled an inventory of 133 downtown parcels. Among its findings:
- 81% are owned by people who live in Quay County;
- 27% of the buildings are vacant lots or vacant buildings;
- 12% of property owners pay less than $200 a year in property taxes, indicating vacancy;
- 61% of the lots can be redeveloped;
- 41% of buildings on Main Street have potential to be redeveloped for residential usage;
- 27% of buildings on Second Street have a second floor available for residential use.
The study also determined 642 parking spaces are available between First and Third streets and between Railroad Avenue and High Street.
Loveland said in an interview after the presentation that downtown never runs out of parking except during the one-day Fired Up festival in September.
Serna said mixed-use zoning would reduce setback requirements and eliminate parking rules for buildings fewer than three stories tall. Not only are current parking requirements onerous, she said, but they're expensive - about $5,000 for each space.
To change downtown to mixed-use zoning, the city commission would have to pass an ordinance that would include public hearings, Serna said. Loveland said after the presentation that parts of Tucumcari's zoning codes are outdated and might need an overhaul in addition to adding mixed-use zoning to downtown.
Loveland stated in an email Thursday that 14 people attended Serna's presentation and that eight additional downtown business owners requested copies of her presentation and voiced support for mixed-use zoning.
Mayor Ralph Moya said in a phone interview Friday that he and his fellow commissioners "definitely" would support a mixed-use zoning overlay for downtown.
"Let's get real; look at all the buildings in downtown that sit empty," he said. "We've got to do something to generate any kind of activity downtown. It's not like we're so swamped downtown that we have no parking space.
"To me, multiple use is excellent, and it won't tear down other businesses' value. Anything we can do for downtown, that's excellent."