The proposed plat map for Arbolada subdivision on North Mesa. Courtesy Columbus Capital
BY MAIRE O’NEILL
A final subdivision plat map is on the agenda for Wednesday evening’s Los Alamos County Planning & Zoning Commission’s approval for 85 single family lots at 659 San Ildefonso Road on North Mesa. The property, called Arbolada, is owned by Jeff Branch and Greg Gonzales of Columbus Capital.
The Los Alamos Reporter chatted with Branch Tuesday afternoon about Arbolada as well as the “Brown Huts” property on Trinity Drive, also owned by Columbus Capital, which will be renovated this year for use as a daycare facility for children of Los Alamos National Laboratory employees and others.
Branch said the Arbolada journey began last May when the world was different.
“The interest rates were 2 or 3 percent. We knew when we were going into this that inflation was starting to raise its head, so we had several builders excited to come in and build in Los Alamos. We had four or five different groups that were lining up that wanted to build the actual home itself,” he said.
Arbolada has preliminary approval for 85 homes, 18 of which are attached, townhouse style homes on lots close to San Ildefonso Road that will be in the higher density area of the subdivision.
“We’re not changing the zoning. We’re just asking for approval. In hindsight, we probably should have gone for more density just to get more homes but we’re so far along now that I think it’s too late. It turns out that it will be a pretty good subdivision,” Branch said.
He said there will be another 17 homes along the rim of the property that have spectacular views and would have bigger lots. Those lots would have the ability to customize a little more.
“The remaining 50 lots in the interior of the subdivision are all single family lots of detached, one and two story homes,” Branch said. “We haven’t designed the actual home itself but with these homebuilders going away we’re interviewing a couple of different builders that would work with us on that process. Right now, we’ll get approval Wednesday night I hope from Planning & Zoning and then we will submit for permit as soon as we can for the infrastructure – the streets, curb and gutter – all of the base subdivision, which is going to take us until April or May.”
He said once the weather is fairly decent, they would start construction on the infrastructure – all the streets and curbing, gutters, etc.
“When all that’s done, the vertical construction starts to happen and the homes start to pop up. We haven’t designed these homes yet but that will be happening over the next few months and then we start pulling permits to build homes. We’re trying to see what direction we go in. We’re definitely going to sell all the custom lots along the rim. With high interest rates, a lot of subdivisions in the country are doing a full rental subdivision where you actually rent the homes and they’re not for sale, so that makes it a little more affordable if people don’t have to come up with the down payments and they can be three-year leases and that type of thing. That’s an idea worth exploring,” Branch said.
He said there would be a point when they would sell the homes.
“It’s a very popular thing. It was very popular for the last 10 years in certain parts of the country. We’re investigating that only because the for sale builders that we anticipated aren’t showing up to the table because interest rates have doubled – almost tripled. I think we want to keep going with the process because the demand is there for housing but we just have to determine how we’re going to deliver that,” Branch said.
He said Columbus Capital wants to get the approvals done and then they can dive in. They would like to get going with the streets which he hopes will be set in stone after Wednesday’s Planning & Zoning Commission meeting.
“We’re excited. If we had two or three of these, now that I know the community a little better, I’d love to do something more innovative with another piece of land that has some different price points but that will come,” Branch said. “The demand is there. I’m hearing from a lot of people who have been here for decades and now they’re downsizing because their kids are gone but there’s nothing for them. That would be fun if we found a piece of land – something that caters to that crowd.”
Branch went on to discuss the “Brown Huts” property noting that the Lab is looking for places for parents to put their kids. He said the timeframe for opening would probably be late summer.
“We’re working with them right now. We’re about ready to hire engineers and architects to design it. I think they’re to find an operator that’s experienced and licensed,” he said.
Branch said Columbus Capital has relocation clauses for the leases of current tenants. One tenant has a lease until the end of the year and Branch is working with him to try and figure that out and the Lab understands that he has to honor leases obviously.
“It’s going to be a beautiful little place with the ponderosas and outdoor areas. It’s going to be a sweet little property for the kids in the program. I hope it works out well for the community,” he said.
Asked about the potential for traffic issues with the daycare facility, Branch said they have met with the County.
“It meets their zoning. We’re going to have to figure out the circulation within the parking lot as we design it for drop off and pick up so the cars aren’t backed up on Trinity Drive. Those are things that will be explored as we move forward. We’re still early in the process and the design hasn’t even started,” he said.
Columbus Capital is working with an architect and daycare consultants. Some of the site work will also have to be designed.
Branch said Columbus Capital has a contract to purchase the Hilltop House property and is going through their due diligence.
“Unfortunately I’m not that encouraged. There are easement issues and I thought the County was taking out the foundations but they’re still there. There are gasoline tanks in the ground. We’re working through it. We’ve overcome bigger obstacles than this but it’s just being resourceful with the resources that we have. It just takes time and effort,” he said.
Branch noted that the Hilltop property is an important piece for the entire master plan.
“It’s an entry into the community. It’s going to take a village,” he said.