Downtown Pedestrian Zone Ordinance Illegal And Will Inspire Expensive And Destructive Litigation

Los Alamos

Dear Los Alamos County Councilors,

The Town Hall organized and run by Councilors David Reagor, Denise Derkacs, and Sara Scott last week reinforced and illuminated most of the points I made in previous communications and the Decker Parish Sabatini (DPS) memo of 5-26-21 link.  It also brought forth ideas and issues I had not thought of.  I summarize:

Lab leases, ground-floor offices, residences and home businesses support small retailers because they provide daytime foot traffic. 

The nature of lab leases is such that they make it possible for landlords to offer lower rents and other incentives to small businesses, which in turn make spaces more attractive to the lab and lab contractors..

Because the lab needs spaces of 3000 square feet and above, they do not compete with retailers for space because most retailers need 1000 or less square feet.

Attracting retailers to Los Alamos is a unicorn.  We’re competing with hundreds of communities with far better population, demographics, and physical attributes.

This ordinance is illegal because it’s downzoning and will inspire expensive and destructive litigation.

Before making decisions like this overlay it’s critical to do the research first – the wrong actions by council can easily hurt rather that help problem.  The first rule should be:  do no harm.

Here is a quote from the DPS memo (DPS is the consulting firm Council hired because of its expertise in downtown rejuvenation):  

 “The proposed ordinance is fairly restrictive and could create unintended consequences that inhibit downtown development/ redevelopment, thus creating more vacancies. Prohibiting residential uses goes against national best practices and may impact the ability of high density, residential uses to develop downtown.  … the proposed ordinance would restrict home occupations and businesses on the ground-floor of downtown areas, appropriate uses that can help to activate the frontage.”

The argument has been made that the overlay should be passed because it’s a foundation document on which further progress on the downtowns can be made.  There is nothing in this ordinance the addresses constructively any aspect of the retail environment.  It has no factual basis, is directly contrary to the facts revealed by last week’s  Town Hall, and promises to meet massive resistance from those you need the most.  I urge you to defeat the ordinance and help the business community to organize itself to study the business and retail environment and develop a consensus about how the county can help, rather than hinder, business in Los Alamos.

Editor’s note: See Los Alamos Reporter story dated July 26 on DPS memo: