Conceptual view of the proposed Pet Pangaea to be located at the corner of Trinity Drive and 35th Street with vehicle access to be off 35th Street. Courtesy
BY MAIRE O’NEILL
Los Alamos County Council has unanimously adopted an ordinance approving the sale of two lots on Trinity Drive near Los Alamos Medical Center to Cyndi Wells of Pet Pangaea, LLC.
The County received three proposals for the property which was advertised in October and the Pet Pangaea proposal was selected following review by a committee. County Community Development Department Director Paul Andrus noted that Pet Pangaea is a long-serving, local business and that the proposal includes a pet store with four residential units on top which is in line with a number of the County’s strategic goals and Council priorities.
“That was key in the analysis going forward. In general the proposal is very attractive. It’s really eye-catching architecturally and the use itself has some interesting attributes as well,” Andrus said.
Councilor Sean Williams asked if the County is required to go with the highest bid in property sales or if the County has discretion over those sorts of matter. County Manager Harry Burgess said there is a County ordinance that prevents the County from selling property for less than 95 percent of the appraised value and that it depends on each individual bid and how it’s structured. He said in the case of the property in question, the primary focus was conformance with County policies, particularly with the comprehensive plan and the housing study. He noted that the Pet Pangaea proposal was for an amount in excess of the other two proposals.
The owner of the residence located immediately next to the property voiced her concern that although the proposed building is beautiful that current plans indicate it will be 20 feet tall and just five feet from her property line. She said when she goes into her back yard and looks up, all she will be able to see is the wall which will mean that there is no sun there until midday or later. She asked if the County would request that the building run east to west instead of north to south.
Councilor Sara Scott noted that based on community input, Council has been and is going to continue to work hard on its strategic plan which includes supporting the local business environment and providing more housing options.
“Additionally we have heard from businesses in our town that being able to purchase rather than rent property would increase their sustainability and potentially expandability. I support his purchase and efforts to make additional properties available to support our business environment,” she said.
Councilor Williams said that although he supported the motion to approve the proposed sale, he was not particularly happy about the idea of selling County property above appraisal.
“An appraisal is the history of prior sales so this sale will affect future appraisals. If the County does consummate at that appraisal, we will be bidding up commercial property values throughout the County. I believe that in the disposal of County land we should be focused on public purpose and not on highest bidder and Council should probably make a statement to that effect through action as long as it doesn’t turn out to be unable to do so,” he said. “I am going to support this motion to get us under contract with Pet Pangaea and then after that pursue the possibility of amending this agreement to put the purchase price in line with the appraisal.”
In response to a question from Councilor David Izraelevitz, Andrus said the property was rezoned as public land when it was originally looked at as a public project. He noted that the property will have to be rezoned which will have to go before the Planning and Zoning Commission and the Council. So it has to be rezoned – has to go through P&Z and before Council. The site plan will have due course through public process he said.
On the issues of the height of the building in relation to the adjacent private residence, Wells noted that her team had spoken with the owner before the conceptual design and that the owner had expressed a desire not to have a parking lot next to her residence which was one of the reasons the conceptual design was as it is. Wells’ architect Steven Teeter said the team wanted to be respectful to the owner’s requests as well as County ordinances. He said the team is open to relocating the building as long as they could still have the pet store on the ground floor and the residences on the second floor. He noted that there is some flexibility with the site and that the team would gladly entertain input from the adjacent property owner.
County Attorney Alvin Leaphart addressed Councilor Williams’ earlier comments saying amending a material term of the agreement – the price – after the adoption of the ordinance allowing the sale would not be a legally viable path.
“The state statute by which we sell land requires us to publish notice of the substantive terms of the deal in advance of the adoption of the ordinance. Once the ordinance is adopted the only way you could change that – would be to go through the whole process again – a new agreement, resell the land again under different terms. You could delay the hearing, you could amend the ordinance tonight and bring it back at a later date but as far as approving the ordinance and changing the price at a later date, you would just simply have to start over,” Leaphart said.
Wells’ legal counsel Phil Dabney said he didn’t think his client was interested in paying a lesser price than they had already agreed to pay.
Councilor James Robinson voiced his support for the proposed sale noting that it meets Council goals of supporting local businesses and increasing housing opportunities adding a pet-friendly area. Councilor Denise Derkacs noted that the sale offers an opportunity for a local small business to own their own, property and build a mixed use facility in the downtown area. She said she appreciated the proposed design for the building but encouraged the team to work with neighboring homeowners to address their concerns in the final proposal they present to planning and zoning.
Councilor David Reagor said it’s a pleasure to see the County and the Council helping a local business which is something he always supports.
“In terms of the density, given our island status – our real estate essentially being an island – we’re always going to have this problem of increasing density. Every neighbor is going to have something coming up next to them that’s bigger than what was there before. And that is going to be true downtown with every piece of redevelopment we do. That will be true with North Mesa and we have to say that is going to be a constant of the town for the foreseeable future,” Reagor said.
Councilor Scott said she felt it was important to make it clear that the property solicitation absolutely wasn’t about price.
“It really was about the elements of the solicitation that was put out there that had to do with how a potential bidder would respond to community priorities and the executability (sic) of such a project and that was first and foremost. I agree with Councilor Williams that that is important and that we should absolutely consider that,” she said. “I think it was reflected in the responses we got back, all of which were very responsive to key community priorities and needs, so we saw that and hope to continue to do that in the future. And we can structure our solicitations so that we do get those kinds of responses.”
Chair Randall Ryti said he supported the sale. He said he thinks there is some benefit to looking at the policy considerations of a price and agreed with the comments that price was not a deciding factor per se.
“We could certainly clarify that in the future as to what criteria we’re looking at,” he said.
Pet Pangaea first opened in 2004 and annual sales have grown to some $1.3 million since then. Wells. According to the proposal the store is hoping to add additional services such as local delivery, pet grooming, birthday parties for dogs and the sale of aquatic fish. The addition of a large saltwater aquarium in the new premises is also planned. The store area will be 7,000 square feet and the second floor housing will be 4,000 square feet. The business will have 20 parking spaces.
The sale price of the property is $200,000 and closing is expected to occur within 60 days of the opening of escrow. The project is expected to break ground as soon as possible after the closure of the sale and completion is currently expected to occur some 12 months thereafter.