BY MAIRE O’NEILL
It looks like the Los Alamos County Parks & Recreation Board (PRB) will revisit their decision on a recommendation to County Council on the option to proceed with for Phase 2 improvements for the Los Alamos Golf Course.
The PRB met July 14 and voted to advise Council to proceed with Option A for “expanding the golf practice area and adjusting holes 1, 2 and 3. They also voted that Council look at a mitigation strategy for the removal of some 135 trees as part of the Option A work,
A news release from the Community Services Department announcing the meeting had indicated that the Phase I golf course improvements were to be discussed. However, when news of the vote on Phase 2 got out, advocates for the preservation of open space in the community were upset that they were unaware that Phase 2 was up for a vote because they would like to have made public comment on the open space issues around the Phase 2 proposals.
Sue Barnes wrote to Council saying, “We feel misled and cheated of our opportunity to participate in this process, and the PRB was deprived of their right to hear and consider input from the community”.
The agenda for the meeting did in fact note that action would be taken on Phase 2, however there was no information on the four options in the agenda packet prior to the meeting for the public to review. As of Monday there was no written description of the four options available and the presentation had not been added to the agenda package on Granicus. The options presented were still not available on the County’s website for review. In response to a request to CSD for brief descriptions of the four options, the Reporter received the following link https://spaces.hightail.com/receive/ONVVPop7k4.
At the Tuesday, July 26 County Council meeting, under the County Manager’s Report agenda item, Steven Lynne said staff has been asked to bring the issue back to the PRB.
“There was some misinformation regarding that meeting in advance of that meeting and just to make sure that we’re including everyone that wanted to comment, we’ve asked staff to bring that back one more time so those folks can be heard as part of that process,” Lynne said.
The Los Alamos Reporter sat down with Community Services Department Director Cory Styron to clarify the history of the Phase 2 PRB vote. Styron said when he came on board, the irrigation improvements were the priority for the golf course and $4.5 million had been allocated for that project, with any remaining funds at completion to be used for course improvements including safety of the driving range, tees, bunkers, greens and restrooms. At that time an architect was working on the course and the design process began.
Styron said the big issues then were the safety of the course and the driving range, and that tees and greens were part of the conversation also.
“In order to keep the current footprint of the driving range the same, based on the professional research of the architect at that time, we were going to have to have 140 foot steel poles where the existing nets are – that would be almost three times the height of the existing poles. We felt that you would be able to see them from around the community and that they would be kind of an ugly eyesore. We told them to think of something else,” he said.
Although the issue of limited flight balls for the driving range has been discussed at length, Styron said the consultant never proposed the limited flight balls.
“Consultants will tell you that limited flight balls are a measure of a last resort for a golf course. That recommendation was made by one member of the Los Alamos Golf Association and was echoed numerous times through numerous other people. We actually did a small study towards the end of the season last year and you had the option to hit those or not, because of the netting issue and it was really close to 50/50 with people who were okay with them and people who didn’t like them,” he said.
Styron said there was a time when the County regrouped and went back to the golf community to try and find a solution. He said the consultant presented the option of shortening the golf course by about 63 yards as an option they thought would be palatable.
“The golf community did not want it to be any shorter; in fact they wanted it to be a longer course for the more accomplished golfers. When that recommendation came out, there was some miscommunication or no communication between the golf community on the recommendation, I’m surmising. We had numerous meetings with the super users of the golf course trying to reach an amicable solution. Our consultant at that time requested to be let out of their agreement and we started having the conversations about how we could put money into the course but also look at long-range improvements,” he said.
The representatives under the Los Alamos Golf Association wanted the money spent on the course, Styron said.
“Their position was the driving range is not a priority, which is a little different from the document we started working from. So they started that conversation, and we made the presentation to Council for staff that really wanted to kind of do the same thing that actually is the same thing that is occurring now. We would look at the whole golf course, come up with improvements and then figure out ways to best use the amount of money. During that presentation, Council directed us to right away make the improvements focusing on the greens, tees and bunkers for holes 4-18. They gave us an additional $600,000 to do that and we also were to come back with three options to address the issues with holes 1-3 and the driving range,” Styron said.
He said the County wanted to make sure existing data was used to minimize the design cost.
“We didn’t know what the additional cost would be to improve the course. We had to have an architect not only for this phase but some of the green design, the bunker design and the tee box design. It requires some level of civil engineering because you have to look at water flow, where the water goes, soil compaction, proper soil amendments, grades, elevation and then you have to look at it because it’s a pretty significant improvement that it is ADA compliant, Styron said. “There is a formula for the size the greens have to be so that you can have a single user cart up on it. If you have a bunker, you have to have a way in and out of it. We wanted to make sure that we covered those bases as well so it would be done right.
He said those were the reasons an additional professional in the golf course industry was needed.
“As staff we knew that whatever happened on holes 4-18 was also going to impact holes 1-3 and vice versa. They have to be looked at first singularly and then they can be pieced out although the work is done simultaneously. So we engaged another golf course architect. They’re going to hit the ground running; they’ve got a game plan for holes 4 -18 that was presented in May. We got some feedback so we’re working on that. We’re working on this 1, 2 and 3 and the driving range,” he said.
Styron said there was a public meeting in June and that there were people that asked questions on both sides – from the golf course as well as some of the trail and open space concerns.
“Specifically there were questions about the actual acres that would be adopted into Options A, B, C and D. There was some good information that came out of that meeting that needed to be added. Specifically it was how many acres are you talking about taking of these zones for the golf course and how many trees are going to be impacted by the options. That negative was brought out and was coming forward for the presentation,” he said.
Styron took responsibility for the fact that the press release for the July 14 PRB meeting did not indicate that the Phase 2 improvements would be discussed. He said when he found out, the agenda was updated but he did not know what channels of distribution were used for the amended agenda. He noted that he didn’t see the presentation for the meeting until late in the afternoon the day before the meeting.
“We could have better communicated that to the community. Because of the significance of the decision, the presentation should have been in the packet. I wholeheartedly agree,” he said.
Styron said the next step is that the Phase 2 improvements will be on the agenda for the Aug. 11 PRB meeting.
“We have asked the consultants to provide a mitigation option, which in the last conversation we had was to plant two trees for every tree taken out under Option A. That’s typically a standard on golf courses. I’ve seen everywhere from a 1/1 to a 2/1 to actually using diameter inches of trees you take down. A mitigation option will be presented for discussion. That’s my understanding of the conversation,” he said. “Then they’ll revisit Options A, B, C and D and open it up for public comments.”