BY MAIRE O’NEILL
Los Alamos County Council voted 4-3 last Tuesday evening to affirm June 10 decisions of the County’s Planning & Zoning Commission related to a daycare facility on La Senda in White Rock. Councilors Katrina Martin, Pete Sheehey and Antonio Maggiore voted against.
The Commission had approved an in-home daycare for up to 12 children located in a studio guesthouse on a three-acre parcel at 113B La Senda Road proposed by Denise Matthews. A request for permission to have a home business employing more than one non-family member was also approved.
The motion stated that the decision of the Commission was in accordance with adopted County plans, policies and ordinance, that the facts on which the original decision was made were supported by the record, that the decision was not arbitrary or capricious or a manifest abuse of discretion.
A prior motion by Councilor Pete Sheehey to send the daycare issue back to the Planning and Zoning Commission for further development of the facts concerning the impacts on the peace, comfort and welfare of persons living in adjacent properties, specifically noise levels and to consider possible requirements for noise mitigation measures, was seconded by Councilor Antonio Maggiore.
Councilor David Izraelevitz immediately noted that he was not in support of the motion, that he believed that the Commission had performed its duty, and that there had been extensive discussion about noise levels. Councilor James Robinson said he agreed with Izraelevitz. He said the Commission acted appropriately, weighed the facts that were presented to them appropriately and made a good decision.
Sheehey said he made the motion so that further evidence could be presented regarding the actual sound levels.
“Of course we can’t measure sound on a facility that hasn’t already been built but we have similar daycare facilities at which measurements at different distances and perhaps behind fences and so forth can be made. Furthermore there is data available about daycare sound levels. Given whatever sound levels data is presented, the P&Z Commission can consider noise mitigation whether that means sound-deadening fences of some kind, additional shrubbery, that are not necessarily expensive measures but they may well reduce the impact on the neighboring people,” Sheehey said. “I think the P&Z should take some extra time to consider these matters. I’m fully in favor of an outdoor daycare center as long as it can be done without undue impact to the neighboring properties.”
Councilor Katrina said she would be supporting the motion.
“I actually have confidence as one who works with children that a daycare would be within acceptable noise levels but I am hoping that we can find hard evidence so that the neighbors and the community can feel if this does go forward that it won’t be undue burden on them. I’m hoping we can find a little more evidence to make sure that everyone feels better about this project going forward,” she said.
Asst. County Attorney Kevin Powers asked who was going to do what Sheehey was proposing and at whose cost. He asked what kind of evidence the Council would be seeking and if new evidence was going to be allowed.
“Honestly this is the first time this has ever happened that a case has been remanded for further evidence,” he said.
County Community Development Department Director Paul Andrus asked who has the burden of the evidence. He said obtaining further evidence would to be done by the applicant.
Council Vice Chair Randy Ryti noted that evidence was certainly discussed at the P&Z meeting.
“I would have liked a little more clarity on some of the points but it’s a question of whether it’s really worth asking for it to go back to planning and zoning or not. I think that I’m going to vote against this motion,” he said.
Maggiore said having to make the decision stinks.
“This is my least favorite part of this position – trying to offer people the opportunity to be just civil and neighborly to each other. ‘Not in my backyard’ is one of the things that we consistently butt up against in this town and I would hope that this is not just some outright not in my backyard rejection,” he said. “I understand the concerns of neighborhood quality and neighborhood character. I am supporting this in hopes that people can reassemble before planning and zoning and simply strike a ‘good fences make good neighbors’ compromise. I would hate to just blanketly approve something that I have serious qualms about and feel that due diligence was definitely not done in the lead up and I think a second bite at the apple is in this case actually warranted and hopefully leads to an outcome that leaves all parties at least slightly or equally unhappy”.
Council Chair Sara Scott said she did not support the motion.
“I believe that much of the discussion centered around criteria #1 (peace, health and general welfare) There was extensive discussion. There was extensive evidence and I’m very concerned while I understand the hopefulness that additional measurements and looking at other measures might have the ability to have some folks feel better about this, I don’t feel like this rises to something that is not appropriate or exceedingly detrimental,” Scott said. “I believe this was discussed broadly and I’m not sure if we remand it back what the specifics of that remand are regarding noise, which was the issue that was talked about most extensively – what it is that we are looking for either from the applicant or the commission with that remand. So, I will not support the motion.”
At that point Maggiore withdrew his second and Sheehey withdrew his motion, suggesting that Matthews consider carefully additional measures to mitigate the noise impact on the neighboring properties.