BY DAVID JOLLY
Los Alamos County Councilors,
I am writing concerning the proposed creation of a downtown pedestrian retail overlay zone that will be introduced at tonight’s Los Alamos County Council meeting. There is wide-spread concern in the community about the lack of retail in Los Alamos. I share that concern and have been active in working with others to find a solution. I have no commercial property interests in the County, but I believe the continued success of Metzger’s is directly tied to being part of a vibrant community. That is my motivation in working to improve the business environment in Los Alamos County.
I believe Councilor Williams’ intent is to address that issue as well, and I appreciate that. However, I have serious reservations about the ordinance proposed and the consequences it could have. I am concerned about both the proposed ordinance itself, and its timing. I also find it confounding, considering Council’s efforts in transparency, that this proposed ordinance is being introduced to Council without notification to the parties involved, or to my knowledge any of the groups working on improving business conditions in downtown Los Alamos.
On the proposed ordinance: I believe that the retail situation in our County is complex. Some of the issues involved are unique to Los Alamos, as we are not situated well to bring shoppers from outside the community, and of course hampered by the lack of available land to develop. Overcoming these obstacles will best be achieved by bringing stakeholders together to come up with and implement solutions.
When I first read the proposed ordinance, I immediately thought of two property owners I know who have been very proactive in creating exactly the type of opportunities the ordinance seeks to create. Just a couple of examples are Shannon Cde Baca’s extensive work to provide space to small retailers in her building at 1247 Central Avenue. In recent years, Shannon has worked hard to fill that building with small businesses including Boomerang, Cricket Window, Atomic City Quilts, The Yarn Coop, the LA Daily Post, and Karen Wray’s art gallery. At Central Park Square, Philip Kunsburg has been very creative in creating a restaurant district at the back of the complex, giving synergy to businesses such as Bathtub Brewery, Time Out Pizza, Rigoberto’s, Boese Brother’s, and Rose Chocolatier.
Efforts like these should be held up as examples of how we can work to solve our issues. Instead this ordinance, if enacted, would be a slap in the face to both of them. I see no evidence that the issues this ordinance seeks to address are the reason for our lack of retail in the community. Looking at these examples, it would appear the opposite is true. I believe most would point to the Mari Mac Center as the biggest example of our problem, yet this ordinance does nothing to address that, other than potentially adding one more hurdle in recruiting a prospective developer.
This ordinance would certainly reinforce Los Alamos County’s reputation as a place that is hard to do business in. On the timing: I question the reason Council is being asked to refer this proposed ordinance to P&Z for consideration at this time. Los Alamos County is currently under contract with DPS to develop downtown master plans for both Los Alamos and White Rock, as well as the Chapter 16 Code Update. Both of these efforts, the Master Plan in particular, are designed to encompass increasing retail opportunities in the County, and the proposed ordinance is an amendment to Chapter 16.
It seems to me then that the appropriate avenue for presenting this idea for consideration would be to ask that it be included in the Chapter 16 Code Update process. I am, along with a number of other citizen volunteers, participating in sessions with DPS to prepare their recommendations for updating that section of the code for presentation to Council and the community for public input and eventual adoption. Since that work is ongoing at this time, it seems appropriate to address this issue there. It seems counterproductive to a comprehensive code update that this singular issue would be presented for consideration outside that process. In conclusion, I understand and appreciate any effort to improve the business climate in our downtown areas. I believe there are much better options for achieving our goals. We are, with the help of MainStreet New Mexico, pursuing a MRA district in White Rock to provide incentives to bring public and private interests together to improve the downtown area there. That type of corporative approach should be what we are looking for in Los Alamos as well. I strongly encourage Council to table this proposed ordinance, and ask Councilor Williams to bring it to DPS for consideration as part of the regular order of the Chapter 16 Code Update process so it can be considered as part of a more comprehensive effort to bring vitality to our downtown. I appreciate your consideration.