Letter To County Council Proposing Comprehensive Dialogue, Study of Downtown Retail Environment


Los Alamos County Councilors,

Code Ordinance 02-317 proposes the creation of the Downtown Pedestrian Retail Overlay Zone (DT-PRO).  In my opinion the ordinance has technical and legal defects and would likely not accomplish its intended purpose.  Leading details of my analysis of this ordnance were published in a letter to the Los Alamos Daily Post and the Los Alamos Reporter and is available online. 

The ordinance’s stated intention is to improve the retail environment in Los Alamos by making the pedestrian experience more enjoyable, a noble goal that generally would benefit retail.  The environment has indeed deteriorated somewhat from a peak reached after the Smith’s Marketplace came into being.  Notably, the closure of CB Fox and the Reel Deal and the continuing abandonment of much of the Mari-Mac shopping center are disappointing.  

The Council is legitimately concerned with these developments and the retail environment in general, but it is not at all clear the perceived problems have a systemic origin that can be addressed by piecemeal statutory changes. Rushing into the breach with an ordnance  that would not even have any effect because it does not include a description of the geographic area to be affected simply kicks the can down the road.  If the idea is to threaten landlords with inclusion in a future map of the DT-PRO district, it’s simply going to alienate the business community and likely will not address the real problems, which we may not even know at this point.  

In addition, you have commissioned a review of the Development Code, which is underway and making progress, though slowly.  The new ordinance would amend the code just as it is being reviewed and it might be better to have the ideas behind the ordnance folded into that review.

I propose a study, led by the Council, beginning with a dialogue among business owners, landlords, the Chamber of Commerce and the Commerce and Development Corporation, the various arms of the county, open to the public, and including the DPS Design group which is doing the Development Code and the Downtown Plan.  The study would identify the problems, research possible solutions, and develop a plan that would preserve the best features of the current environment while proposing legislative changes that would be acceptable to all parts of the business community.  

This approach, under the leadership of the Council, would avoid antagonizing the business community by respecting their property rights and acknowledging that after all, they are ones with the most skin in the game.  The concerns of the County and the general citizenry would be heard and respected and each party would have the opportunity to hear and respect the viewpoints of the others while finding mutually agreeable solutions.  And the development code rewrite would produce a much more integrated and studied result.