BY MAIRE O’NEILL
It’s back on the table again. The Los Alamos County property at what’s been called the 20th Street Extension off Trinity Drive across from Ashley Pond. A lot has happened since out of the blue an ordinance appeared on the Los Alamos County Council agenda for the August 6, 2019, meeting announcing a proposed agreement that would include eventually turning the property over to TNJLA, LLC for an 86-room Marriott Hotel and conference center. At that time the property was assessed at $1.8 million.
Public outcry was predictably significant because County officials had obviously been working on the proposed agreement but there had been no mention of it until it appeared on the Council agenda as an ordinance for proposal. There were complaints that the County’s process for property deals moves too fast and that there are so many players involved that transparency is lost in the system. There were also complaints that when the 20th Street parcel was divided into seven lots, it was supposed to be so that local businesses and developers might have an opportunity to buy them. The County Council approved the proposed Marriott project and the community settled down to see what transpired.
Fast forward to summer 2023. The Los Alamos Reporter sat down with County Planning Manager Sobia Sayeda to discuss the future of the 20th Street property. Sayeda said TNJLA asked to rescind their contract with the County at the end of last summer, that with the jump in construction costs because of COVID, the company had finally realized that they did not want to move forward with the project and had decided to step away from it.
“With that opportunity, we knew that the land needed to be redeveloped – it’s County-owned land and there were originally seven lots including one where a switchgear building sits at the edge of the canyon. During the proposed Marriott project time frame, they were asked to consolidate those lots so in that process right before they had their project cancelled, they had consolidated those lots into three main lots,” Sayeda said.
She said the County had been working with TNJLA and that they had appeared to be moving forward. The County was waiting for TNJLA to get their financial guarantee together.
“That was during the time that contractors were just bidding on things randomly and it was very interesting in the construction industry. Things have calmed down since then,” Sayeda said.
In November the County realized it would have to figure out how to redevelop the property and how to package it. The TNJLA project was one of the first proposals the County solicited back then, Sayeda said.
“We also looked at what we could do differently, how we could change the process and actually have more public input and engagement so that we would know what the community needs and how to come to a conclusion as to the highest and best use for the property moving forward,” she said. “This is important in light of our new Development Code that was approved in January. Between November and January we didn’t touch the 20th Street Project because we were busy getting approvals on the code so we said we would come back with it early in the spring to figure out what we need to do.”
The County’s Community Development Department staff held a public meeting June 21 to begin to solicit the public’s thoughts on how the 20th Street lots should be used and introduce an online survey being conducted to collect the community’s input. At some point the County Council will ask staff to solicit competitive proposals for the site and at this time staff doesn’t know what’s going to come in the door.
The survey closes Sunday, July 9 at 11:59 p.m. It consists of only a few questions and takes about 10 minutes to complete. For anyone who wants to contribute their thoughts and opinions to the future use of the 20th Street Extension, this is their chance.
After the results of the survey have been compiled, they will be taken back to the public and then on to Council for input and to determine how the property will be presented for developer proposals through the RFP process.
“The public meeting we had was in the spirit of transparency. We worked with our public information staff to get the word out,” Sayeda said.
Included in the meeting was a walk-around at the site so that anyone who wanted to could see how the parcel is divided up. She said CDD wanted to start with the public meeting, while relying on the consultants’ expertise to show them how to best apply the new zoning code to this piece of land.
“We’re looking at what is the highest and best use. The best use does not mean a 7-storey building there. The term ‘highest and best’ use is based on what the community wants and would like to see,” Sayeda said. “This is a very exciting time for the CDD. We are trying to be as creative as we can. It’s a very interesting intersection, directly opposite Ashley Pond, which is really our community’s gathering space.”