BY MAIRE O’NEILL
Los Alamos County Councilors voted unanimously Tuesday evening to direct County Manager Steven Lynne to “proceed with the actions necessary to remove the Hilltop House and its ruins, wreckage and debris from Los Alamos County and lien the parcel of land for the reasonable cost of the removal of the Hilltop House incurred by the County provided for in NMSA Section 3-18-5 and Los Alamos Resolution 21-30.
Introducing the agenda item, Lynne said the matter had been discussed during last week’s Council meeting.
“Council agreed basically to another week to consider any potential agreement; that has not been forthcoming. There’s been very little progress this week,” he said.
Lynne said he has had very frank conversations with John Rizzo of New Mexico Innovation Triangle, LLC, owners of the building.
“Late this afternoon he sent me an email as public comment. I’m not going to read it all – the first part of it is really his background about the project that they’re interested in but I do think the latter half is relevant to this discussion to summarize where we’re at. This isn’t 100 percent verbatim,” Lynne said and began to read.
“While we’ve made some progress, we’ve not made enough progress and I’m not satisfied with the outcomes to date. As a member of the community who lives in the area, I find it critical in situations like this to consider what the right thing to do is, first for the community. In this situation, and it pains me greatly to say this, the right thing to do is having the County take the ball from here. That would be the best course forward,” Lynne read.
“This creates a series of financial and legal complexities for New Mexico Innovation Triangle but in the end the building will be demolished and it is the right thing to do. While I’m not pleased with this outcome and apologize for the energy surrounding it, it is not for lack of trying or effort. We found that the Fire Marshal Wendy Servey, officials from the County and Steve Lynne’s office have been a pleasure to deal with and have been measured but clear in moving us along,” Lynne read. “We look forward to a long relationship with them. Our focus now is getting the financing in place to get the building into the air, here he’s referencing the project they want to move forward with, help address the housing challenges in Los Alamos and at some point in the future snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. In start-ups you never give up and we haven’t. We appreciate the support from the community and look forward to the next chapter.”
Lynne said that was the essence and that given that it basically supports what County staff have recommended at this point, which was that Council direct them to move ahead with demolition of the facility. In response to a question from newly-appointed Councilor Keith Lepsch, Lynne said the County has authority under the “Clean and Lien” Resolution that Council approved but we still doesn’t otherwise control the property.
“We will lien it for the costs of the demolition but they can pay the lien and still own and control the property after that. I don’t have a really good way of assessing the project moving ahead,” he said.
Council Vice Chair Denise Derkacs who made the motion said she’s frustrated that it has come to this.
“The Council has no other choice but to go forward with this,” she said.
Los Alamos County Fire Marshall Wendy Servey said Wednesday that she did get access to the Hilltop House Wednesday morning. She noted that combustibles have been removed, that she would not say that all combustibles were removed but that work was done.
“Overall, the building is remains a combustible fire package because of the conditions it is in and how fast fire would spread. Did removing combustibles help, yes, but the building remains a fire hazard,” Servey said.
She noted that there is also an issue of the public getting into the building and that she had observed new graffiti done since her last inspection.
County Manager Lynne told the Reporter Thursday morning that the County’s first step is to get the removal of asbestos from the building underway, possibly using one of its on-call contractors that does this type of work. The second step, he said would be to secure the County’s copy of the asbestos report for the building. A decision has not yet been made on whether to use an on-call contractor for the actual demolition or to issue a request for proposals for the work.