Urban planner Will Gleason of Dekker Perich Sabatini, second from left, speaks with Los Alamos County Councilor Katrina Martin, far left, and members of the public at the Jan. 30 meeting on the North Mesa Housing Study which was held in Council Chambers. Photo by Maire O’Neill/losalamosreporter.com
Los Alamos County Community Development Department Director Paul Andrus answers questions following a presentation at the Jan. 20 meeting on the North Mesa Housing Study. Photo by Maire O’Neill/losalamosreporter.com
A large crowd turned out Jan. 30 for a meeting in Los Alamos County Council chambers concerning the North Mesa Housing Study. Photo by Maire O’Neill/losalamosreporter.com
Will Gleason of Dekker Perich Sabatini, right, and Los Alamos County Community Development Director Paul Andrus give a presentation at the Jan. 30 North Mesa Housing Study. Photo by Maire O’Neill/losalamosreporter.com
BY MAIRE O’NEILL
Attendees at a special meeting Jan. 30 on the North Mesa Housing Study were assured that the project is very early in the process even though conversations on the concept started about a year and a half ago.
Urban planner Will Gleason of Dekker Perich Sabatini, the company that conducted the study, emphasized that it is not a site development plan.
“We’re not changing the zoning on this site yet. This is just to test the feasibility of developing housing for what the County needs to address in terms of housing needs at this point,” Gleason said.
He outlined the goals established with the help of the community steering committee at the outset which included addressing the community need for quality workforce housing and developing a scenario in which the school district could actually generate recurring revenue.
“Because they own this land they’re also looking at how they can generate some revenue from it and not just give it away,” Gleason said.
He said another goal is to focus on providing a quality mix of housing types for various households and the associate homeowner needs.
“That means that some of them might be studio small units that might be for rent product whereas others might be a more traditional detached single-family home. We’re really moving towards not providing housing that’s not readily available in other parts of the County right now,” Gleason said.
He noted that he had heard several comments about the traffic impacts and that a traffic study would have to be done as part of the project at the appropriate time. He showed a timeline to emphasize that the project is really in the beginning stages of any sort of initiation to develop the site.
“Land development takes quite a bit of patience and time. I don’t know how long this is going to take but it’s not a matter of months, it’s a matter of years for sure,” Gleason said.
He said this is not just a one-off notion for the County.
“This is something that’s aligned with what the County Comprehensive Plan, the Economic Vitality Plan and the Strategic Leadership plan have all emphasized and identified as a need – that housing is something that is a critical piece of the infrastructure for the County for its continued success. And I know that you all know that there’s this surge of hiring, that there’s an increased level of interest in living in Los Alamos County and a real dire need for addressing that housing shortage,” Gleason said.
Gleason said the Housing Market Needs Analysis for the County was developed in late 2019 to understand the housing needs and to kind of quantify it.
“The findings were an immediate need for about 1,300 units of rental housing and almost 400 units of for sale product. This need is particularly acute for lower and middle income households so this is what we’re calling the missing middle – housing for households that make somewhere in the range of $60,000 to $100,000,” he said. “I know $100,000 used to not be the middle but in 2020, $100,000 does not buy you a $400,000 house along with all the other expenses that you typically have with family. Trying to accomplish that is a tricky thing to do. It’s not about exchanging laminate counters with formica counters, it’s about addressing the entire formula for providing housing, from the size of the lot to the configuration of the homes and how they all relate to each other. It’s very challenging but that’s what we’re targeting here.”
Gleason said the site overall is “pretty developable”.
“It’s got amazing views, it’s got really good neighborhoods on either side of it. The idea is to build off of those neighborhoods and not detract from them and to take advantage of the views and the topography. The fact that there are some utilities available adjacent to the site makes it a feasible project,” he said.
Gleason said the company had been working with the steering committee and brought in some actual scaled building footprints of some different types of housing to test how some of these options would fit on the site. He said the range of housing included was not just an academic exercise but to see how those actual built products would fit onto this site.
“Then we backed off from that and said we don’t want to get that specific at this point. It’s not really the time yet to determine what will be developed,” he said.
“Over the course of my career I’ve worked on a lot of masterplans where you try and figure out the solution too early. There’s a lot of different people that get involved in a project like this. We need input from you first of all. We need input from the market to tell us what would actually work up here as a development. And then we need to go through the whole County approval process. So, this is really meant to be the starting point and the framework for this and to provide that flexibility you need going forward,” Gleason said.
Boards were placed around the room showing some of the housing types being considered in terms of low- medium- and higher-density housing, ranging from cottages to more attached townhomes to apartments.
Although nobody from the LAPS board was present at the meeting, a joint meeting of the school board and the County Council has been slated for Tuesday, Feb. 11 in the School Board Room at the LAPS administrative offices at 2075 Trinity Drive.
Los Alamos County Community Development Director Paul Andrus said there will be other thresholds that have to be passed not only with public meetings but by use of our website. He noted a survey on the County website on the project and stressed that the public is invited at all times to participate. We have a survey that’s up. In each case the public is invited to participate.
Most of the questions from the audience were from residents of Hawk’s Landing and other developments close to the proposed project site. Some of them felt they had not been included in the process to date.
Andrus said the exercise was essentially to get the process going in terms of talking about the potential development scenarios with community members and that it will involve folks that are in the vicinity.
One audience member said the tone has already been set judging by the Gleason’s presentation without substantial input from people living in the area. He said as a person living in the area he has a strong objection to that.
Gleason said that while he understands the frustration, he feels it is better to come to a meeting with something people can react to, because if you present a blank piece of paper, it’s a difficult thing for most people to conceptualize.
Asked what he thought about the project, Andrus said he would actually be “hard-pressed to tell you this is going to happen myself because of all the steps that need to occur”.
“The reason that the site was identified was that there were some conversations going on that identified in the midst of what’s happening with our housing market what would be the opportunities out there that we might want to look at from the land perspective and this came out through discussions with school representatives and some county representatives and general stakeholders out there in the community,” Andrus said.
Andrus was also asked how the school board became responsible for solving the housing crisis in Los Alamos.
“They are in discussion with us, with the County as a partner because they are not in the housing business. The goals for the property were developed with the school board as well,” he said.
An attendee asked how to stop the process.
“How do we stop it? How do we stop the wheels? Rather than picking the colors on the townhouses,” he said. “I’d like to be in the front end of this to say I don’t want that. I bought a home in that area with the expectation that there would be open space and the deer would run across there and it’s kind of nice. How do I stop that?”.
Andrus responded that he has his elected representatives who are listening in on the conversation.
“You certainly have the school board. Your area where you live is represented by a school board member. That’s two channels there that you have available to you. If the process moves forward, you can continue to voice your objection to it,” he said.
Andrus said the public process is set up for people to have direct input.
Deputy County Manager Steve Lynne said in terms of go no go for the project, the first thing would have to be some formal agreement between the County and the schools – the schools as the landowner, the County as for lack of a better term, the development agent.
“We’re not even at that point; all this is based on a few school board meetings, a few council meetings, a general desire, a general concept. After that point, then there’d be a further decision point – selection of a developer. There would be numerous opportunities and formal decision points where both bodies are considering whether they want to do that,” he said.
It should be noted that while public comment and questions at the meeting mostly came from those who seemed to either oppose or have concerns about the project, there were many people who just came to listen to what was being said and who later told the Los Alamos Reporter that at this point they saw no need to oppose the project.
For more information on the North Mesa Housing Study, visit https://storymaps.arcgis.com/stories/2bd99622052847179515208429906f4a