For centuries this valley was part of the primary route connecting Mexico and Santa Fe. A ribbon of agricultural lands developed where irrigation networks parallel the river. Intertwined with farms and orchards, a string of small villages provided nearby residents with places to shop, educate kids, worship, or post a letter.
At the southern end of the valley, development has merged with the cities of El Paso, Texas and Ciudad Juarez. Midway along the corridor—between the US/Mexico border and the county’s northern boundary—the city of Las Cruces has grown into a significant regional center.
The settlement pattern we see today is the product of both practical considerations and geographic factors. Areas at the outer limits of the valley—where roads, utilities and water are minimal—tend to be reserved for military use and low intensity activity such as outdoor recreation or livestock grazing. Lands closer to the center of the valley—where utility systems are well established, jobs are plentiful, and services easily accessed—are more densely developed. Isolated farms, large acre subdivisions, and small villages fill the spaces in between.
This landscape is an essential part of our regional identity. It offers a wide range of settings—from rural to urban—where residents can pursue their chosen lifestyles. It offers many opportunities for businesses to take root and flourish. It is a place supportive of learning, the arts, and faiths of many kinds. And it is a place where the Southwestern desert is valued and respected.
In countless meetings over the past five years, county residents have made clear that they do not want change to erode the way we live. Whatever development comes our way should be respectful and complementary. This very basic idea is the central point of the County’s updated Comprehensive Plan and the driving force behind of all of its recommendations.
Irresponsible development is the greatest threat to our heritage. Industrial plants next to schools would endanger the health and safety of children. Isolated subdivisions would stretch public services, require costly expansion of utility systems, and push the limits of families trying to manage housing and transportation costs. Haphazard commercial development would undermine public investment in an efficient road system.
Development that is misplaced and poorly designed also represents a missed opportunity to strengthen existing communities, maximize the efficiency of existing infrastructure, and protect treasured assets like farmland and natural areas.
As we consider the future of Doña Ana County, we would be wise to follow the precedents that have shaped our region. Indeed, this history and the lessons they offer are central to the proposed Unified Development Code (UDC). The UCD supports not only existing development, in all its forms, but also a renewed interest in complete communities like those that were once so prevalent throughout our stretch of the Rio Grande corridor.