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Council votes to simplify downtown plan

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CDD director says plan is impossible to work with, as is

By Mandy Marksteiner

“The downtown plan, as it exists, is impossible to work with,” said Rick Bohn, Los Alamos County community development director.

At Tuesday’s county council meeting in White Rock, Bohn explained three ordinance amendments intended to simplify the planning and zoning process by eliminating ambiguous language between documents that may have an impact on land use.

Council voted 6-1 to approve Ordinance No. 02-107, which establishes and defines a downtown district. They unanimously approved Ordinance No. 02-108, which says that the county will be required to review and revise the comprehensive plan and zoning map every 10 years instead of every other year. They also unanimously approved Ordinance No. 550, which says that they will incorporate all the changes into the official zoning map.

According to Bohn, the county can avoid future legal challenges by making these changes.

“If there is a land use issue that is either controversial or involves a lot of money, people will go after those inconsistencies in order to slow down the council’s action,” he said.

It will be especially important to make sure the county documents are in alignment before the plans for the municipal building are underway, Bohn said.

Councilor Robert Gibson cast the lone opposing vote to Ordinance No. 02-107.

“The area north of Central should remain principally residential.  It’s the ideal place for that kind of property, whether it’s affordable housing or senior housing,” he said.  “We could be displacing a number of high density units when we don’t know how to replace them.”

Gibson said they would be making the changes for the wrong reasons. “This is driven by the desire to legally move the municipal building there,” he said.

During public comment, Richard Hanneman

opposed Ordinance No. 02-107 because he wanted to avoid pushing the residential area away from downtown. He said, “I don’t trust the climate at which this is being presented at this time.”

Bridge Design Approved

Council unanimously approved a plan to design and build a bridge for the Canyon Rim Trail, citing a strong showing of public support.

The decision was a refection of the community’s support. Councilor Ralph Phelps said, “I had over 40 e-mails that were unanimously in favor of building the trail.”

According to Phelps, there were two themes in his e-mails.  The first was that people wanted the trail, and the second was that people weren’t confident that Council would do what they said they would do. He said, “I think it’s important that we do what we said we would do.”

Councilor Nona Bowman said, “I only received one negative e-mail, which is very unusual for Los Alamos.  This bridge will be an asset to our community.  Many of us will use it, young and old.”

“We should do everything we can to enhance our trail system,” said Ilse Bleck during public comment.

Gibson expressed reservations. He said, “I will approve it because it has already been approved as a Phase II project, not because it’s well done…. I like the concept of the Canyon Rim Trail, but is the scope really necessary? It’s not a trail. It’s a one-lane road! I think it’s overdone for the amount of traffic out there.”

The cost of the bridge, estimated at $511,260.00, will put the overall cost of the trail under budget. According to Open Space Specialist Craig Martin the cost of asphalt is low.

McInerny’s legal advice will be made public

The council decided in a 6-1 vote to temporarily waive their attorney/client privilege with County Attorney Mary McInerny.  

This will allow her to make public her legal advice regarding the charter reform initiative. The information will be available in the staff report for the special meeting on Jan. 23 where they will discuss the upcoming referendum.

Councilor Vincent Chiravalle was opposed. He said, “It would be lobbying against making changes.  I think we need to make changes that give the public a chance to vote down bloated projects.”

Councilor Phelps was in favor.  He said, “It supports transparency.  It shows that we’re not trying to hide anything.”