Preserve The Public’s Role In Los Alamos Downtown Development


Editor’s note: The following are remarks made to Los Alamos County Council members at their Tuesday evening meeting.  Neal Martin is vice chair of the Planning and Zoning Commission. The views expressed below are his own.

Tonight I’m speaking in strong opposition to the Review/Approval Procedure for Downtown Districts being proposed by Dekker Perich and Sabatini as part of the Chapter 16 Development Code Update. The proposed changes are not a minor tweak of Chapter 16; they are a major overhaul that would radically change how and by whom site plans are approved for the most central and significant areas in our community.

Currently site plans in Los Alamos County are reviewed and approved by the Planning and Zoning Commission. The changes proposed by Dekker Perich and Sabatini would radically restructure the site review/approval procedure by entirely eliminating the role of the public and the Planning and Zoning Commission for virtually all site plans in the downtown districts. Under this proposal, there would be no public quasi-judicial hearing, no presentation to the public, and no opportunities for members of the public to cross examine applicants under oath. Ordinary people would themselves still be encumbered by the P&Z process for all sorts of minor issues, but multi-million-dollar downtown developments would be granted an expedited approval process with zero public input.

At the P&Z Meeting Dekker Perich and Sabatini, claimed that eliminating P&Z’s role in reviewing downtown site plans would help spur development. However, they provided no evidence that intransigence by the P&Z Commission is a factor in constraining development in Los Alamos County. On the contrary, I can say from my several years on the P&Z Commission that the members are uniformly pro-development, and there is not a single example of P&Z obstructing a site plan in the downtown in recent memory.  So, where’s this proposal coming from?

It’s worth noting that this proposal did not emerge from the solicitation of public input or even conversations with local stakeholders. When asked during the P&Z meeting where this proposal originated, the representatives of Dekker Perich and Sabatini stated that it was their own idea. I can certainly see how this proposal benefits consultants like Dekker Perich Sabatini. They are on very good terms with the County and they are very effective at greasing the wheels for the developers they represent. This proposal would give Dekker Perich Sabatini even more opportunities to leverage and monetize their strong relationships with County staff, while eliminating their obligations to the public, but needless to say this proposal does not serve the public interest.

The most significant site review criteria pertain to the community’s health, safety, welfare. Dekker Perich and Sabatini have never explained how staff would evaluate these subjective criteria. Would these criteria be abandoned? Or would these subjective criteria be enforced at the whims of County bureaucrats? Neither would be acceptable. The most significant site review criteria are not objective or technical criteria, but subjective criteria based on our community’s values. The evaluation of these criteria is an inherently political process, and people deserve to have these decisions made openly and transparently before the public.

People of this community want transparency. They want accountability. They don’t want the County striking more deals behind closed doors. They don’t want developers sneaking a footnote into an omnibus package that eliminates their rights to have a say in their own downtown under the false pretense of bringing uniformity to the County code. I encourage Council to reject Dekker Perich Sabatini’s proposed changes to the Downtown Review/Approval Procedure in the Chapter 16 Development code update.