3002 Del Sur Fire Ruled Arson, Citizens Show Concerns About City Response, Commission Needs to Take Action

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Abandoned Properties in Alamogordo put us ALL at Risk. (AlamogordoTownNews.com)

Today the city of Alamogordo Fire Department released a press release concerning the property fire at 3002 Del Sur Fire was ruled an arson and suspects have been identified for arrest. Excellent job on the part of the Alamogordo Police Department and the Alamogordo Fire Department in collaboration and solving a crime that could have resulted in damage or death to property owners of adjacent properties. Kudo's to Alamogordo Fire Department for its quick response and for its arson investigation team and collaboration with the Alamogordo police. This cross department collaboration is an example of how government departments can and should work together for the common good of the citizens.

The press release from the City of Alamogordo Fire Department today reads...

Alamogordo, NM Thursday, July 8th, 2021, on May 3rd, 2021, the Alamogordo Fire
Department was dispatched to a structure fire at 3002 2 Del Sur Avenue. After the fire was quickly extinguished, the Alamogordo Fire Department Fire Investigations Unit conducted an Origin and Cause investigation. The fire was determined to be Incendiary in nature. A collaborative investigation with the Alamogordo Police Department Detectives Division developed two persons of interest. After a thorough investigation it was confirmed, the fire was caused by an act of Arson. Subsequently the collaborative investigation has led to charges being pursued. The investigation is closed.

Contact for this Release
William Skaggs
AFD Fire Investigations Unit Leader
Fire Investigator & Inspector
575-635-7589
WSkaggs@ci.alamogordo.nm.u

The bigger crime than the actual arson involved, is the city commissions lack of leadership in relation to issues of blight within the city of Alamogordo. An editorial was published in the Alamogordo Daily News, May 4, 2021 by Beth Crabbe, outlining her ongoing concerns with the neighboring property and the city's failure in policy or enforcement. Ms. Crabbe owns an adjacent property to 3002 Del Sur, her engagement with the city of Alamogordo highlights as a prime example, of a bad issue going even worse, and the results of ongoing issues within the city of blight and the failure of city leadership to act upon those safety issues.

Per her editorial...

"At 6:46 p.m. on May 3, 2021, the house next door to me at 3002 Del Sur caught on fire.

This home has been vacant for at least 15 years. This story is one of neglect. It is one that occurs throughout our community. It is something that needs to be addressed through city ordinances and to create ordinances and repercussions for home owners who do not maintain their properties. I am sure the city has spent a large amount on the abatement of this yard for the past 10 to 15 years. Does the owner at some time not run out of their ability to continue to have the yard abated because of their irresponsibility?"

The question for the city commission, do the ordinances exist to help terminate this urban blight problem? If they do, why is code enforcement not more aggressive in pushing property owners toward resolution to resolve blight? Fifteen years? In what universe does it take 15 years to solve a blight issue. Fifteen years is excessive and shows negligence by multiple parties. If enforcement of ordinances related to blight does not exist, then where is the city leadership? If they do exist where is the oversight?

As recently as Tuesday, I personally witnessed the results of urban blight and crime associated with it. As a partner business owner on New York Avenue, great progress is being made by the Alamogordo Main Street organization in building community consensus, surveying the community and working to secure funding for revitalization. But Tuesday mid afternoon, broad daylight, while in our store, we heard glass shatter and discovered one of the abandoned buildings a few stores up the street had the glass door kicked in and was vandalized. The police came, took our statement and reviewed the damage. Was an arrest made of the gentlemen driving a moped on the sidewalk that committed the damage? Not as of yet. But the bigger issue is the blight of these buildings. 

Business owners in the old town and primarily along 10th Street, and homeowners throughout the city, are faced with multiple buildings, both commercial and residential, that are vacant and are not being maintained, or occupied and not maintained. For the adjoining property owners and business owners, this blight creates a greater opportunity for crime and risk for the business owners and homeowners adjacent to these properties. It causes increased expense of the adjacent property owners and business owners in needing high lever security systems and because the zone is a blight zone insurance premiums can cost more if even attainable.

Other cities around this country have tackled urban blight with local city and county tax incentives to encourage upkeep of these properties. For commercial properties several cities in the US have created ordinances which reward property owners that offer low cost rents for these properties, by creating sales tax rebates and property tax rebates to homeowners and commercial building owners that offer low cost rentals in an attempt to revitalize a property. Has that been considered by the city commission? Is there a task force between the city and the county to craft policy around urban blight? What I have witnessed is finger pointing not collaborative dialog and policy debate. 

The city commissioners should appoint a task force consisting of public representatives as home and business property owners,  business owners that rent, commissioners at both the city and county level and commit to solving the issue with a task force that has a defined role in crafting policy and ordinances with a timetable of deliverables for the greater good of the overall community.

In cities that are less willing to go the route of tax rebates and incentives to owners, then those cities have tackled the issue, with very aggressive code enforcement against abandoned or derelict property owners. In speaking with some elected officials and commissioners, it does appear the only way to get enforcement action is by citizen complaints. However that does not always work as well. 

Note the adjacent property owner, Beth Crabbe's, editorial published in the Alamogordo Daily News, May 4, 2021 where she claimed to have spoken to city officials of concern about the 3002 Del Sur property, to no avail!

"I have called DPS (Department of Public Safety), code enforcement and talked to the Mayor about this house. I have talked to the city attorney about my situation next door. This fire put many lives in danger and it is because of the lack of action to remove dangerous, deserted, neglected and dilapidated properties from our community. I am told we cannot do that because of regulations. It is time to change them."

Yes, Ms. Crabbe it is time the commission act and take responsibility. They work for the public interest and we must ensure they do take responsibility.

Per the city budget the city of Alamogordo received in 2018, $170,512 for a program funded by HUD

The CDBG grant program’s state and national objectives require that the funded activities address at least one of the
following:
1. Benefit principally low to moderate income families;
2. Aid in the prevention or elimination of slums or blight; or
3. To help meet an urgent need of recent origin that pose a serious and immediate threat to the health and welfare of the community where other financial resources are not available.

In 2019 under the leadership of commissioner Alfonso "Al" Hernandez he asked the City Planning Department  to draft an ordinance regulating the outward appearance of some types of buildings in the City's commercial districts.

The proposed ordinance was discussed and tabled at the regular Alamogordo City Commission meeting Tuesday, Oct. 22. 2019, for the purpose of getting additional input from the building community.

Per Alamogordo City Planner Stella Rael at the time, "This is very important. Staff recommends approval of this amendment to maintain the beautification and integrity of our City."

The streets listed as benefiting from the ordinance are Indian Wells Road, Scenic Avenue, First Street, White Sands Boulevard, 10th Street and Florida Avenue.

This is an interesting first step if indeed it was passed and shows leadership by Commissioner Hernandez in stepping up the city response to urban blight. But why such a limited area? Where is the response to blight and beautification for the whole city?

The draft ordinance would have updated the Alamogordo Code of Ordinance about specific requirements on certain streets in section 4 of the City Zoning Ordinance.

The proposed ordinance would require new buildings to have a brick or stone wainscot, at least 35 percent of sidewall height in the front of the building and on the sides of any building that is adjacent or abuts an arterial street or a full stucco façade on the front of the building or on a side that is adjacent or abuts an arterial street.

According to the Alamogordo Daily News. October 23, 2019 story by Nicole MaxwellAlamogordo City Commissioner Josh Rardin opposed the measure saying "We have trouble attracting businesses and people to Alamogordo anyway. Why would we want to put more restrictions on what they can and can't build?"

No, Mr. Rardin as a new business partner in Alamogordo and our partnership having done business in communities on the west coast with very restrictive zoning rules, I can assure you zone enforcement and community guidelines encourage more upscale businesses to seek a presence in your community. However, the lack of guidelines or a free for all and the lack of code enforcement leading to urban blight, that sir, is what will drive investment to look at alternative communities to Alamogordo for investment and a presence. Upscale business interest prefer a community that takes pride in itself and has local community flavor verses a cookie cutter approach to every town looking the same. 

The recent fire on 3002 Del Sur was quickly put out and an investigation began by the Alamogordo Fire Investigations Unit. 

In an article published in the Alamogordo Daily News by Nicole Maxwell published May 14, 2021 The Fire Investigations Unit Leader of Alamogordo was quoted:

"Every fire in Alamogordo is investigated," Alamogordo Fire Department Fire Investigations Unit Leader William Skaggs said. "We've always investigated them, we're just taking a more proactive rather than a reactive stance with it."

In 2018, Alamogordo Fire Department started its own investigations team. Prior to 2018, the New Mexico State Fire Marshal's Office would investigate fires, Skaggs said.

The fire department did their job! The police department did their job! Indictments have been crafted as a result of the actual fire.

Beth Crabbe's, editorial published in the Alamogordo Daily News, May 4, 2021 said it well. The criminals of the actual fire will be found and prosecuted. But as Ms. Crabbe eloquently points out, the real indictment is the city of Alamogordo leadership and their failure to act on derelict buildings...

Quoting Ms. Crabbe:

This has gone beyond the visual appeal to our community, but has now embraced the lives of our fearless firefighters.

For 10 years I have called about this property. These fire dangers sit in our community with nothing being done. We risk the lives of our firefighters because of the lack of action by the city to remedy this situation.

I hear our hands are tied. Not if you create change. How long are we going to let these abandoned buildings sit, encourage vagrants to occupy them, create unsightliness to our community and most importantly, has potential for great harm to man – whether a vagrant or a firefighter?

The reality is the next act of vandalism, the next fire, the next loss as a result of inaction by the city commission is owned by them! 

Inaction is unnecessary, open the blinders as inaction by the commission is crime against the good citizens who care for their properties and care for this city. 

Those in power who fail to address this issue that not only impacts property values and business recruitment, their failure to act, at the core, makes them complicit in putting public safety at risk. 

Study other communities via a task force and see how they addressed the issue. A good example of a plan comes from Augusta Ga. See their response and ordinances put into action via  the link below..

https://www.augustaga.gov/DocumentCenter/View/14392/Blight-Pressentation

Now is the time for the city commission and those in power to act!

Set up a task force, now is the time to solve this issue for the greater good of the Alamogordo Community. 

Listen to this article as a national podcast:

https://anchor.fm/chris-edwards88/episodes/Tackling-Urban-Blight-Only-Happens-When-Government-Takes-Responsibility-at-the-Local-Level--Alamogordo-Town-News-Special-Report-e1464l7

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