Councilor Sara Scott: Housing, Commercial And Recreational Project Highlights

Los Alamos County Councilor

I’d like to start this note with a shout out to all of the community members helping to move us forward through the COVID-19 pandemic by supporting vaccination efforts and by continuing to do the things that are important and easy for us to do every day – wearing our masks, distancing when in public, and minimizing trips and travel. I am happy to report that as of March 30, more than 55% of folks eligible for the vaccine have received at least one dose and almost 80% of eligible residents have registered with the New Mexico Department of Health COVID-19 vaccine system. Working together we are having a real impact on getting our kids back to school and participating in activities important to their well-being, and on the safe and expanded operations of our businesses.

Meanwhile, work on housing, commercial and recreational and infrastructure projects around our community continues. An update regarding these and other county-wide efforts was provided in the January 5, 2021 State of the County Report. I am sharing this note to give the community the most current available information.

Permit issuance for both commercial and residential activities continues at a robust pace in 2021; even in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on operations, staff continued provision of service at normal levels, remotely as available and using the on-line permitting systems. During the first quarter of 2021, 219 building permits were issued, with 125 of these permits submitted using the Citizen Self-Service portal; for approximately 99% of residential permits the turnaround was three days, for commercial permits it was five days. An interesting trend is increased interest in solar power installations: 43 residential solar permits have been issued since November of 2020.

Housing projects in Los Alamos and White Rock include a mix of apartments, townhomes, affordable housing projects and single-family homes. These developments are important – the results from the December 2019 independent Housing Market Needs Analysis showed an immediate need for 1,310 units of rental housing and 379 units for homeownership across all income ranges in addition to the developments already in process. As of March 30, here is where these projects stand:

  • The Hilltop House. This property was purchased by a private party; demolition and re-use for a residential redevelopment is planned. The owner of the Hilltop House has begun work on conceptual site plans for the redevelopment of this site.
  • Mirador Subdivision in White Rock. In total, 61 permits have been issued in this neighborhood (of a total of 161 for full build out), with 43 completed and occupied. Additionally, the Planning and Zoning Commission has approved the site plan for an adjacent mixed-use development (57 apartments and 1000 square feet of commercial use space).  An application for a permit to construct this project is anticipated in the first quarter of 2021.
  • The Flats at Oppenheimer and Trinity. These 16 units were completed in 2020; 15 have been sold.
  • The Bluffs and Canyon Walk on DP Road. The Canyon Walk affordable-level apartments (70 units) are under construction, and quick progress is being made.  In addition, a nearby site is being cleared for The Bluffs, a senior affordable housing rental development of 54 units. The expected completion date for the Canyon Walk apartments is May 2021.  Permits have been issued for the Bluffs project, with an expected completion date of May 2022.
  • Arkansas Place. Located at the old Black Hole property, the construction of the infrastructure and utilities for 44 new market rate townhomes is in progress.
  • The Hill Apartments. The development on 35th street (at the old Los Alamos Site Office site) east of the hospital will include 149 market rate apartments; construction is slated to begin in spring 2021.
  • Ponderosa Estates Subdivision. The project is for 49 single family homes; the subdivision plat for this project was approved in November of 2020.
  • Former Los Alamos Visiting Nurses Service Site. This Canyon Road property (east of the Los Alamos Jewish Center) has been purchased and a site plan and building design is in development for approximately 140 units.  Submission of the site plan is expected in the Summer of 2021.
  • Mesa Townhomes Senior Housing. Twelve units for-sale to those 55 and older will be built on the empty lot next to Aspen Ridge; a development agreement is planned for County Council consideration by Summer of 2021.
  • Infill. Nine new housing permits have been issued since November 2020 throughout the county.  The number of available vacant, privately-owned parcels continues to diminish due to the overall demand for housing.
  • North Mesa Housing Study. The Los Alamos Public Schools and the county continued public engagement to highlight important elements of a desirable workforce housing development. This culminated in the schools and the county signing a Memorandum of Agreement to produce, while integrating public input, a detailed conceptual site plan and financial feasibility analysis. A steering committee comprised of School Board members, County Councilors, and citizen representatives has been formed and has begun meeting once a month.

In addition to reviewing and issuing permits, county staff (utilizing COVID safe practices) maintained normal building inspection service levels during a strong building year in the county.  Using virtual meetings, the Planning and Zoning Commission considered new development applications in 2020 and 2021, for example:

  • Natural Grocers. Opened for business in November 2020.
  • Charley’s Landscaping. Opened in summer 2020.
  • Anytime Fitness. Opened in January 2020.
  • Marriott Hotel and Conference Center. The site plan was approved by the Planning and Zoning Commission in January 2021. The next stage of development will be the submission of a building permit.
  • Los Alamos Public Schools Credit Union. The site plan has been approved by the Planning and Zoning Commission, a permit issued, and the building is now under construction with a planned opening date of May 2021.
  • Pet Pangaea. An ordinance was passed to sell two lots on Trinity Drive owned by the county to this local business and is moving forward on the rezoning of these parcels for mixed use in May in support of this project.

Businesses have stated that being able to purchase rather than rent property would increase their sustainability, but the county has very little land available for purchase by our smaller businesses (or perhaps even new businesses) in our downtown areas. To make property transferred from National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) to the County available for businesses (approximately 10 – 12 new lots on DP road for future commercial use and a larger lot to the east for more industrial type uses) and to address needed infrastructure upgrades for existing businesses, funding for a complete update of roadway and utilities (electric, gas, water, and sewer) was approved as a part of the FY2021 budget process. Planning and engineering design work is underway, with construction planned for 2022.  The utilities and roadway improvements for this phase of the DP Road project will begin at the fire tower and continue all the way to the end of the public right of way at the entrance to TA-21.  In parallel, the County continues to work with the Department of Energy (DOE)/NNSA to maintain focus on completing assessments and any needed cleanup of the Middle DP Road site in a safe and timely manner.

Because of the interest in commercial and housing development, especially in our downtown areas, we have an opportunity to make sure these areas are developed in a smart and responsible way and serves our community’s needs. The Downtown Master Planning effort for both White Rock and Los Alamos was initiated in June 2020. Broad community outreach and engagement is informing this important initiative.  The planning effort is focused on how to best meet our community’s needs while making the county an even more attractive place to live and work. New options for mobility, transportation, and parking in the context of a county-wide initiative to develop an updated and integrated trail and transportation strategy is also being considered.

The proposed recommendations and associated strategies for future development of our downtown areas will be brought to Council on May 25th. An important outcome of the process is an extensive update of the county’s development code (this governs commercial development and redevelopment) to allow us to achieve our goals and be easier to use and apply for all stakeholders. The code update work was initiated in December; there will be series of public meetings and other opportunities for input as the project continues through 2021.

Finally, while the county staff are working hard on a range of open space, recreation, cultural amenity and infrastructure projects, here are a few highlights of efforts to improve or construct multiple recreational amenities that continued even with the challenges of the pandemic.

  • Ice Rink Improvements. The substantive improvements and expansion of the locker room/restroom facilities are complete and in the one-year warranty period.
  • Pinon Park Splash Pad. This was substantially completed in October 2020; installation of a fun, multi-colored design safety coating on the concrete surface is tentatively set for mid-April, pending favorable weather and temperatures. Completion of other final project elements is ongoing and inspection by NMED is anticipated by June. Pending COVID considerations, a grand opening of the facility will be scheduled.
  • Golf Course Irrigation Replacement. The project is complete and in the one-year warranty period.
  • Improvements include safety netting for the driving range and Hole 2, rehabilitation of greens, sand bunker rehabilitation and drainage, tee-box rehabilitation and orientation, renovation of the Hole 13 restroom, and four weather shelters. Completion of work is anticipated for Spring of 2022.
  • Multigenerational/Kiddie Pool Addition. This is a new building addition to the Larry Walkup Aquatic Center includes a zero-entry pool, lazy river, spray features, and a slide. Project construction began in February 2021 and will continue through the end of 2021/early 2022.
  • BMX Track. A request for proposals for a design-build project was advertised in March as part of a two-phased process for this project.  

I hope this note finds you, your families and friends well. As we embrace Spring (and those crazy winds!) I look forward to continuing to work together to carefully resume more of our treasured interactions and activities, knowing that we must remain vigilant but also hopeful as we get to a better place this coming year.