U.S. Water News Online
ALBUQUERQUE -- Neighborhood groups can no longer force
homeowners to have grassy yards, under a bill approved by Albuquerque
The council voted 6-3 in favor of an ordinance that prohibits
property associations -- both residential and commercial -- from
requiring mostly high water-use grass in yards.
A property-owners association could, however, still have a
covenant requiring that up to 20 percent of the yard be high
water-use grass. The group couldn't require more than that amount.
The bill now goes to Mayor Martin Chavez, who has said he intends
to sign it.
The bill is intended to ensure that all property owners can choose
to plant a xeriscape if they want.
"If someone wants to conserve water, they should be able to do
that," said Councilor Martin Heinrich, who proposed the bill.
Opponents of the ordinance said it infringes on the right of
neighborhood associations to establish covenants that protect
property values and give subdivisions a uniform appearance.
"The proposal before you .".". will not make Albuquerque a more
beautiful city," Northeast Heights resident Richard Wilhelmi told
Michael Cadigan, Eric Griego, Miguel G¢mez, Debbie O'Malley
and Brad Winter joined Heinrich in voting to support the bill.
Councilors Sally Mayer, Craig Loy and Tina Cummins opposed the
The proposal would allow residents and business owners to plant
low water-use vegetation on their property, even if covenants require
Heinrich said the ordinance is justified by the city's high-desert
environment and limited water supply. There is a legitimate public
interest, he said, in avoiding the environmental damage caused by
overpumping Albuquerque's groundwater supply.
Regardless, opponents of the bill said it is inappropriate to
override covenants and property rights.
An analysis by the city Legal Department suggests the bill would
withstand a court challenge "because water conservation is an
important public policy and the limits on landscaping covenantsSdo
not extend beyond what is necessary to pursue that policy."
Nearly two dozen people testified before the council, with most in
favor of the bill.
"This ordinance, it would level the playing field," West Side
resident Sander Rue said. "We feel every homeowner should have the
right to choose."
Others vigorously spoke against it.
Attorney David Campbell, who represents a coalition of homeowners
associations, said covenants are an important way for private
property owners to influence how land is used.
"What you're doing is impairing those contracts," he said. "That's
It's unclear how many subdivisions have covenants requiring grassy
yards. A representative of the nonprofit Xeriscape Council of New
Mexico said the covenants were common before the 1980s, when the
limits of Albuquerque's water supply weren't clear.
City officials now say that, in about 25 years, Albuquerque will
run out of problem-free groundwater at the current rate of growth,
unless the depletion is stopped.
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