Los Alamos County Councilors David Izraelevitz, far left, Councilor Randy Ryti and former Councilor Rick Reiss listen to County Manager Harry Burgess Thursday morning. Photo by Maire O’Neill/losalamosreporter.com
Los Alamos County Manager Harry Burgess answers questions after delivering his Los Alamos County Annual Report Thursday morning at UNM-LA. Photo by Maire O’Neill/losalamosreporter.com
BY MAIRE O’NEILL
Los Alamos County Manager Harry delivered his Annual County Report Thursday morning at a breakfast hosted by the Los Alamos Chamber of Commerce. Burgess noted that he has been giving the annual report for the County since 2013 and that it is always nice to have people show up. He said the County has a practice a report for the citizens consumption to highlight what was done in the past year and the shape the County is in moving forward.
“Our sitting Council chair also does a State of the County Report. This is not intended to supercede that or anything. It’s kind of a separate path but we present a lot of the same information as well,” Burgess said.
He noted that as a community, the County is recognized in a number of ways including being listed by Niche.com as the No. 1 County to Live In in the United States, the Second Healthiest Community to Live in, and Best Place to Live in New Mexico, first and second place within the County.
“It’s nice to get those kudos because it represents a lot of the efforts of the whole community. These weren’t based solely on County operations. It’s nice to see that type of recognition and it exhibits the expectation of the community as well,” Burgess said.
Discussing quality of life, Burgess said, one of the biggest issues that the County has been facing and attempting to address over the last year and prior years is the housing crisis.
“Almost three years ago now the (Los Alamos National) Laboratory announced that they’d be ramping up operations, the budget would be increasing and shortly after that, the pit mission was announced as expanding. The Lab has been hiring and that’s put a lot of pressure on our housing,” he said.
One example of the County’s efforts Burgess said is the Mirador Subdivision in White Rock.
“As of December the County had issued 10 certificates of occupancy and there are more homes going up every day. The project was initiated several years ago. In fact, this is the third effort the County went through to try and get housing built on this property,” he said.
He noted that the County contributed to the project in order to facilitate the installation of the infrastructure from which all the houses in the development will feed.
“This land is interesting because this is something the County has been working on. This land was transferred to the County from the Laboratory for economic development purposes so we are actually putting this into use along the lines of what it was intended. This development itself is intended to have 165 houses when complete and also another 50-60 multi-family complex with some mixed use potential for a couple of retail opportunities on the eastern side of that development. NM 4 is just to the south of the project,” Burgess said.
He noted that housing has dominated a lot of conversations at the County which is also working with a developer on DP Road. He said people had probably noticed a trailer being moved in for a housing project being put in by Bethel Development a parcel which was transferred to the County where approximately 70-80 rental units are anticipated with another affordable housing project across the street.
“They have already signed agreements and due to financing this construction season is going to be very busy because due to the tax credits for affordable housing financing, there are deadlines and this needs to be constructed by December. So, we should see some pretty active development on the north side of the street followed by additional development on the south side,” Burgess said. He noted the proximity to stores and the downtown area as well as the newly constructed portions of the Canyon Rim Trail.
Burgess also address new infill housing on various lots as well as the new zoning introduced by the County which allows for commercial, retail and residential in certain areas. This model has allowed for a new development at Oppenheimer and Trinity where a floor was added to existing office building and the second floor converted to housing.
He discussed another housing project the County is working on with the school system were some 30 acres of vacant land adjacent to Los Alamos Middle School is being considered for development.
“This land has sat there for many years and the schools expressed a desire for a housing project to be able to have some opportunities for employees to have places to live. Typically we call that workforce housing. It’s a little different than affordable housing and does not get the same federal designation, but the idea is that individuals that may work in a variety of jobs, (a lot of our service sector jobs from retail to public safety personnel, teachers, educators,) may not fall within the income range to afford a bidding war with others for a single family residence at any one of our higher end subdivisions which is actually percolating down to almost all subdivisions now,” Burgess said.
He said when housing goes on the market, there are a lot of bidders for it and that the desire of the North Mesa project is to create a situation where it could be an affordable product, not necessarily meeting the definition, but instead having a price point that would fit what’s known as the middle of the market.
“We went through a housing study and the results of that study indicated that that middle section of our population has the most difficulty finding housing and that’s people making between $60,000 and $100,000 a year in this market,” Burgess said. “We’re trying to work out a source of revenue for the schools if they were to give this land for that purpose.”
He added that the schools are operating other properties as a source of income and consider something similar to what was done at the Smith’s Marketplace site where there’s an income producing situation. He said there’s also a desire to institute a mechanism to maintain affordability of the proposed homes because in the past there have been examples of where the first persons to buy property came in in an affordable position but when the property was re-sold, there was no provision to require it to meet those standards.
Burgess noted that the County has also been trying to facilitate first time home buyers as well as properties that might need rehabilitation in an effort to improving housing stock by updating existing properties.
From an economic vitality and financial stability perspective, Burgess mentioned the former New Mexico Consortium property which was originally a County economic development project the County supported with a donation of land and a $600,000 monetary contribution for NMC to construct the building.
“The Consortium has graduated to a point where they were prepared to move out and find additional space and they are working with the Los Alamos Commerce & Development Corporation to build new space over at the Research Park, but also one of the businesses that was incubated within this facility wanted to purchase that facility and expand their operations,” he said. “That is Pebble Labs which approached us to participate in the deal to the extent of allowing the Consortium out of their prior project and providing additional land adjacent to the campus to allow them to expand. What we have agreed to at this point is an overall project that included the contribution of land from the County, the contribution of $2 million from the state and also a $60 million industrial revenue bond to facilitate the construction of their new campus.”
Burgess also addressed the hotel and conference center which is to be built on some transferred land in the 20th Street area.
“The County had been trying to attract a variety of businesses to the location. We had developed the property to put in infrastructure and then advertised or solicited input and went through a couple of proposals. In the end we could not come to a deal in those proposals,” he said.
Burgess said the County had for years talked about hotel and conference center needs which would allow the community to capture some of the conferences that were coming from the Lab and other places in town instead of sending them off the hill to Pojoaque, Buffalo Thunder Resort and Santa Fe. He said the County negotiated with a hotelier that approached them about the land and ended up with a deal where the County would donate the land for the hotel and conference but the hotelier also agreed to operate the conference center for the next 15 years.
Burgess mentioned new businesses in the community including the Cricket Window which located into a bigger space, Rigoberto’s which expanded from Los Alamos to White Rocl and the Boese Brothers new brewpub in Central Park Square.
Through a long process, Burgess said the County has been looking at property down on Longview in White Rock which had different ownership. He said there were some concerns about some of the buildings where the block was separating and that personnel in the County’s building department had concerns about its engineering and safety. Following an inspection, the area was cordoned off for public safety and the County ultimately worked through the court system to have those buildings demolished. He said that area is a prospect he hopes to see developed in the near future.
“Additionally with all this activity, our Council has had some concerns about what our future is going to look like. We don’t want to have 10 high-rise apartment buildings in our downtown obscuring views of the mountains or limiting our access to trails. Do we want to make sure that in the construction of these that we don’t have a parking jam every day at noon, or traffic concerns?” Burgess said. “And so the County has approved funding to pursue an update to our development code.”
He said the County is advertising for someone to come in and look at Chapter 10 of the County Code and that there will be opportunity for public participation in that process.
Burgess also discussed the relocation of visitor center to same building as Manhattan Project Office and the purchase of the former WAC dormitory building. He also mentioned that the state has designed a project for NM 4 in White Rock but that the project won’t be initiated until the NM 502 project is completed.
Follow this link to see the written report as published online on the County website: https://spark.adobe.com/page/9lPIBvzDxZovR/