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Four of six planning and zoning commissioners ultimately concurred Wednesday that the site plan for a proposed skate park in downtown Los Alamos meets the criteria set forth in the county’s development code. Getting to that vote has been a roller-coaster ride laced with lingering questions.
At the start of Wednesday’s meeting, which ran from 5:30-11:30 p.m. in Council Chambers, Chair David Izraelevitz asked each commissioner to declare any situations that may impact their vote.
Commissioner Ann Wadstrom, who attended the entire meeting via telephone, said, “I was approached about four weeks ago to recuse myself from this meeting.”
The approacher, whom Wadstrom declined to identify, proceeded to badger her for an hour-and-a-half, which Wadstrom called a “form of harassment.”
The unknown culprit finally “confessed” that someone else had put him or her up to the shenanigans.
“This did not go through regular channels,” Wadstrom said.
Wadstrom did disclose that while she is in favor of a skate park, she spoke as a “private citizen” against the library location during a previous council meeting, not knowing the project would eventually come before the commission.
Wadstrom told commissioners she did not believe that was a conflict of interest.
“If there’s any conflict of interest, it’s a member of the county council who’s married to a member of the Juvenile Justice Advisory Board – “the organization pushing for this location... and that is a conflict of interest,” she said.
Council Vice Chair Robert Gibson is the only councilor married to a JJAB member, Lori Heimdahl Gibson.
“Have you reached a conclusion as to the outcome of this case?” Izraelevitz asked her. “No,” Wadstrom replied.
Wadstrom expressed concern throughout the meeting that the project did not meet all required criteria, especially regarding safety.
The facts of the project were established in the first part of the meeting.
Assistant County Attorney David Rennick kept the legal lines straight as Community Development Director Rick Bohn, Senior Planner Nancy Cerutti, Community Services Department Director Stephani Johnson and Project Manager Dick McIntyre spoke to the project and presented their evidence including expert witnesses to verify the project met the code requirements.
Mike Henderson of Henderson Consulting, an environmental planning firm in Albuquerque, discussed the noise measurement analysis conducted by his company both at a skate park in Albuquerque and at the proposed site in Los Alamos. He told commissioners the site met code.
Police Chief Wayne Torpy explained that the county’s noise ordinance is enforced through police making physical observations. The skate park will be enforced in the same manner, he said.
Landscape Architect Greg Miller was hired by the county for the design and development of the skate park. He presented diagrams showing the various aspects of the park, including its safety features and how they relate to the code.
Following a mass swearing to tell the truth, various affected parties and witnesses came forth to testify. Those for the park ranged from children to teens, mothers to a woman in her 80s.
Those against did not include youth. However, a particularly well-organized team of 2500 Central homeowners, including well-known youth advocate Morris Pongratz, presented their case against the skate park location. Each team member articulated an aspect of where the group feels the site plan fails to meet criteria.
Luke Marcille, 11, addressed skate park safety concerns.
“Skateboarding is challenging and looks dangerous to those who are unfamiliar with it,” he told commissioners. “But it might surprise you to know that compared to other sports, skateboarding has far fewer annual injuries per thousand participants, according to the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System. Basketball has an average of 224 injuries per thousand participants, baseball has 116, soccer has 62 and skateboarding has 22.”
Marcille added that about half the skateboarding injuries are caused by uneven surfaces and providing a smooth concrete area will “logically reduce injuries” in Los Alamos.
The skateboard project has been riddled with accusations of generational wars, underhanded dealings and bullying.
Comments and e-mails from several residents at the meeting indicated they felt Police Chief Wayne Torpy, who has championed the skate park since moving to town in 2005, rammed the project through county council. Torpy has stated on a number of occasions that the park should be in the downtown area to show the kids they matter.
Both Commissioner Marie Wolfe and Izraelevitz expressed concern that some residents felt left out of the loop until late in the process.
“I’m concerned, like Marie, that there seems to be some miscommunication and things could have been done a little better,” Izraelevitz said.
In the end, commissioners approved the project.
Wadstrom and Commissioner David Sherrill voted against the project. Vice Chair Roger Snyder and Commissioner Steven Clarke were absent.
One resident near night’s end exhibited a momentary flash of sarcasm. After advising the resident to behave, Izraelevitz went on to praise the audience for their superb decorum throughout the gruelingly long and impassioned event.
The project now goes back to council council. Council previously approved 60-percent design plans for the skate park and at its meeting Tuesday, will consider approving 90-percent design plans.
The Planning and Zoning Commission’s final motion after the friendly amendment was accepted was as follows.
Motion that the Planning and Zoning Commission approve with the following conditions, Case No. 08-SIT-001, a proposed site plan for the skate park, to be located at 2400 Central Ave., subject to the following conditions for the reasons stated in the county staff report.
Hours of operation will be daily from 8 a.m.-9 p.m.
Final landscape plan indicating the number and location of all plant material shall be approved by the Community Development director according to the requirements of Section 16-51 (c)5 in consultation with the Landscape Review Committee.
Outdoor lighting shall conform to the New Mexico Dark Sky Protection Act.
The utilities department will repair or replace the existing water main under the skate park in coordination with skate park construction.
To help preserve the park-like appearance of the area in which the skate park is located and to mitigate any possible damage to existing trees, the applicant shall
• carefully protect all trees within the proposed construction area during construction;
• construct the park such that no paved area is closer than seven feet from the trunk of any existing tree; and
• plant at least five new pine trees in the vicinity of the park to preserve the park’s ambiance.
Final site plan shall include a drinking fountain, at least two trash receptacles and one recycling receptacle, as well as placement of at least two benches at a safe distance around the exterior of the park for viewing
Rules and regulations shall be posted and conform to all New Mexico state laws.
The fence around the tot lot shall be extended southward from the northwestern edge down to the paved walkway.
Staff shall hold a public meeting in six months to re-evaluate park operating hours. P&Z shall give staff the authority to make any necessary changes to operating hours of the park.
Final motion was made by Commissioner Patrick Sullivan and seconded by Commissioner Michelilne Devaurs. Motion passed 4-to-2.
See story, page 1.