Planning & Zoning Commission Gives Unanimous Approval To 104,671 Sq. Ft. Downtown Mixed Use Development

Greg Gonzales of Columbus Capital, right chats with attorney Karl Sommer following the April 26 Los Alamos County Planning & Zoning Commission meeting. Photo by Maire O’Neill/


The Los Alamos County Planning & Zoning Commission has unanimously approved a site plan for a 104,671 sq. ft. mixed use development that will include 322 residential units and 22,000 sq. ft. of commercial space on the former Mari Mac property at 535 and 997 Central Avenue. The application was submitted by Greg Gonzales of Columbus Capital for the Kroger Co.

Karl Sommer, attorney for Columbus Capital, discussed the case with the Commission.

“This case is really about Greg (Gonzales) and Jeff (Branch) really fulfilling their commitment to you, which is to bring forward a plan that conforms to your regulations and proposes the redevelopment of this blighted property in a way that comports with the expressed goals in your Master Plan. That is to provide housing and retail serving the community as well as a more walkable, livable downtown in a way that comports with what you want to see happen on this property,” Sommer said.

He noted that Columbus Capital is incredibly grateful that the Commission previously approved a Special Use Permit, which is making the next step for the project possible. He thanked County staff for their responsiveness and professionalism while aiding the applicants through the process.

“We’re here tonight to essentially come forward with a plan that mirrors in its aesthetics but also in its economics what your Master Plan calls for,” Sommer said.

He addressed the reason the application has the Kroger Co. name on it.

“This property as we told you last time is under contract and we are 30 days away from closing because we were able to do what you all allowed us to do, which was to take the old Smith’s building and utilize it for self-storage. That is going to happen and that makes this closing possible. Kroger still is in title and will be in title until about a month from now or so when we actually do the closing. Our closing is not contingent on your approval so we’re not here saying we’re going to do this or not do this. We’re committed and we just need to finalize every aspect of this closing and that will happen within about 30 days,” Sommer said. “ That is why Kroger’s name is on the application – because they own the land. It is really our application and it is our planning and our work. Kroger needed to sign as the current owner if the property.”

He said the plan has in every respect received County staff’s recommendation for approval.

“That is because Greg and the professionals that you’re dealing with have gone to great lengths to make sure that each aspect of this plan comports with the requirements of your code and we have provided as much detail as we possibly can so that we’ve answered your questions,” Sommer said.

Gonzales told the Commission that the “exciting site and exciting project” will contain 322 apartment units, 16,000 sq. ft. of retail/restaurant and then about 4,000 sq. ft. of just general use community space.

“There will be three levels of parking structure. Within that there will be 386 residential parking spaces and 76 spaces for the public for a total of 463 total parking spaces. Above the parking there will be five levels of dwelling units for a total height of eight stories of this project. The site borders Central Avenue on the north side and this project will include an upgrade of the streets along Central to encourage community use and gathering spaces. Along the front of the project, which is the east side, there’ll be a new promenade that will connect Trinity to Central that will also be an area for more vehicular and pedestrian access between the two streets and offer more public gathering spaces.” Gonzales said.

He noted that the project comports with the County’s Comprehensive Plan by promoting redevelopment and growth.

“This addresses a site that has been vacant and deteriorating for approximately nine years. This will promote economic vitality by introducing new commercial space which we all know is sorely lacking in Los Alamos. It will provide 322 housing units. It will not solve all of our housing issues here in Los Alamos but it will make a dent. With 322 units that will be 322 cars that are not coming up the hill every day,” Gonzales said. “It will provide mobility and open space. The creation of the Main Street promenade on the east side of the project will provide activity – both vehicular and pedestrian – between Trinity and Central and for more access for those two major streets.”

He said the driving force behind the design is the Downtown Master Plan, which recommends this type of project on this particular site. The project will be one of the first larger projects to be initiated that will be in accordance with the Dark Sky Los Alamos Outdoor Nighttime Standards so it includes fully-shielded lighting designed to shine down.

“There will be automatic dimming outdoor lighting after business hours. That is a new requirement that the lights around the building will be dimmed to 50 percent after business hours or 11 p.m. whichever is later,” Gonzales said.

The landscaping throughout the site will be installed to meet or exceed the landscape areas required by code to create an enjoyable outdoor space, he said. It will include oversized sidewalks, tree-lined streets, areas where people can gather and park benches, he said. In addition the project will provide sufficient parking for all residents and adequate parking for the public’s use.

“This design was reviewed with our engineers, County staff and County public utilities with regard to water, sewer, electricity, gas and storm water and it was found that the County has specific capacity to service this project. The site is currently a parking lot which is a pervious surface. We’re going to be building on top of that, so this project will be adding not more but probably less storm water into the system because we will be incorporating more landscaping than what is currently there.” Gonzales said.

The existing network of streets in the vicinity of the project is adequate for the added traffic from the project, he noted, and the current properties in the area are mostly commercial and multi-family in nature, so the proposed use of the project is allowed within the Downtown Los Alamos zoning district.

“This project is designed per requirements for step backs so it’s not a giant monolithic structure,” Gonzales said.

He noted that traffic will increase due to the project by that the DTMP anticipated that.

“The main entrance and egress to this property will be at 7th Street and Trinity. When Smith’s came in for their application and subsequent building out of their site across Trinity, that intersection was actually over-designed in anticipation of more traffic on this site,” Gonzales. “The traffic study for this project was done in concert with County staff, New Mexico Department of Transportation, the Department of Public Utilities and 15 different intersections were analyzed going from 15th Street all the way to the roundabout. The results of that show that for all of those intersections. the impact from this project would be negligible.”

Columbus Capital feels the project will get the community one step closer to achieving what the goals were of the Downtown Master Plan, Gonzales said.

“We think it’s an exciting project,” he added.

Gonzales said the architects and design firm estimates it’s going to take 9-10 months of final design work so construction work would probably begin in about a year. He said the coloring and the materials may be slightly different from the preliminary design plans but the massing shown in the drawings is 99 percent of what the development is going to look like. He confirmed that the property purchase from Kroger is expected to be finalized within 30-45 day.

In response to questions, County Planning Manager Sobia Sayeda indicated that the parking structure will be partially underground because the property drops drastically by Del Norte Credit Union as it goes over towards the former Smith’s building. With regard to the Special Use Permit for the former Smith’s building, Sayeda said Columbus Capital has been very busy.

“We’ve met with their architects for that Special Use Permit a couple of times and will be meeting with them next week to finalize their building permit and demolition permit applications,” she said.

Sayeda confirmed that the recommendations of the traffic impact analysis would be implemented and that most of the comments have been addressed.

“There are some minor adjustments that need to be made moving forward,” she said.

Gonzales confirmed that the property will remain in the ownership of Columbus Capital or a subsidiary for the foreseeable future.