Spotlight on sustainability: Doña Ana County, NM prepares comprehensive plan for sustainable development

Las Cruces, NM train station. Photo via Flickr

New Mexico’s Doña Ana County is facing a number of challenges as it plans for the future. Compared to the rest of New Mexico, the county has a younger population, higher poverty rate, larger Hispanic population and higher combined transportation and housing costs. Now, Doña Anna County is implementing a new plan to address these challenges, made possible through a grant from the Partnership for Sustainable Communities. The project is called Camino Real: Regional Plan for Sustainable Development, and it will address the county’s long-term growth trends, capacity of infrastructure, and the ability of the county to serve its residents.

In 2012, the region adopted One Valley, One Vision 2040, the first-ever comprehensive plan to encompass Doña Ana County, the City of Las Cruces and other municipalities within the county. However, the plan dates back to 1995 and did not anticipate factors including a nearly 25% growth in population and major investments in multi-modal rail in surrounding areas. In order for Doña Ana County to realize it’s goals of sustainable growth over the next 25 years, a new comprehensive plan was needed in preparation.

Doña Ana County is expected to grow by nearly 90,000 residents by 2040 and nearly half of it’s current residents are under the age of 30. The future development plan will account for a range of housing choices connected to regional transportation networks and consider ways to ensure mobility for an aging population, expanding rural transportation, providing low-cost and efficient transportation and better integration of transportation and land use.

Transportation and housing costs in Doña Ana County are very high compared to median household incomes. On average, combined housing and transportation costs account for over 62% of median household income in the county, while the national benchmark for affordability is 45%. The plan for sustainable development aims to improve communication between departments and agencies involved in the planning and development of transit and housing projects, with the ultimate goal of expanding regional employment and educational opportunities.

Daniel Hortert, Community Development Director for Dona Ana County said the most challenging aspect of the project was public participation. Doña Ana County is nearly 65% Hispanic and figuring out how to best communicate sustainability and livability principals of the partnership was particularly challenging for that demographic. To help overcome this barrier, they used the Citizen Planning Academy and public meetings to communicate their message to local elected officials.

“Residents are not always receptive to what might be in the year 2040, whereas they are particularly concerned with the present,” said Hortert. “The Planning Academy is meant to educate community leaders on the comprehensive planning process so that they can take that message back to their communities and further explain the goals of planning and what tools communities have to plan for their future.”

The result is a comprehensive regional plan that emphasizes sustainable development and improving the overall quality of life for county residents. The plan will be used as a tool to find new locations for businesses and jobs as well as tracking progress towards making Doña Ana County a more livable and prosperous community.

“Continuation of funding for the Partnership for Sustainable Communities is critical to ensure that communities and regions such as Doña Ana County have the opportunity to plan for a more sustainable future,” said Hortert. “Change is a never ending process and it is necessary to invest in areas like Doña Ana County to make certain that they are afforded the opportunities more populated areas of the country typically receive. Equity is the basis for prosperity throughout the country and a crucial directive that is necessary to reignite the economy and quality of life for all.”

The grant for Doña Ana County, was made possible through the Partnership for Sustainable Communities, a collaboration between the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Transportation to help communities improve access to affordable housing, increase transportation options, and lower transportation costs while promoting sustainable practices.

Want to see more projects like Camino Real: Regional Plan for Sustainable Development? Tell your members of Congress to support these programs today.