P and Z begins comprehensive plan review

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By Arin McKenna

Los Alamos Community & Economic Development Director Anne Laurent brought only one visual aid with her to Wednesday’s Planning and Zoning Commission work session on revising the county’s comprehensive plan: a stack of approximately 20 documents, most ranging from one inch to four inches thick.
“Those are all the documents we’re going through to pull out and highlight information to incorporate into the new comprehensive plan,” Laurent said. “This is why, when people say, what’s in our comprehensive plan, you don’t get a good answer, because it’s too big to get your arms around it. It’s not a document that you can engage in easily: not the staff, and not the citizens.”
According to Laurent, the staff’s goal is to compile a unified document of 200 pages or less, so that those trying to adhere to the comp plan do not have to pore over numerous documents in order to comprehend it.
“Our goal is to take all the investment that has been made over the years and compile it into a usable document for our commission, for our staff, for our citizens,” Laurent said.
Staff plans to tackle the onerous task (which has been attempted several times since the Cerro Grande fire interrupted the last major effort) in three stages.
Phase 1 addresses the first seven chapters, which include land use, economic development, housing and historic preservation and cultural resources.
Laurent estimates that 90 percent of the content in those chapters will not be new, since extensive work has already been directed toward those areas. Staff’s efforts will focus on codifying content from disparate plans, such as the Economic Vitality Strategic Plan and the Historic Preservation Plan, into one workable document.
Phase 2, chapters 8−11, deals with “partner” departmental plans, i.e. parks and recreation, transportation, utility infrastructure and environmental resources and sustainability. Each of those departments has adopted plans that will have to be examined for what should be included in the comprehensive plan.
Phase 3 tackles the county’s six specific area plans, one plan at a time.
“It’s where we can get a little more specific and go area by area and problem-solve with the community about what the solutions might be,” Laurent said, using the ban on RV parking in residential neighborhoods as an example.
“Rather than ban RV parking anywhere in any residential plot, making this broad brush statement in our comprehensive plan, we can look area by area and come up with solutions that address concerns about recreational parking,”
Laurent stressed that although there are parts of the plan that need updating, the comprehensive plan and its various revisions are solid.
“I think it’s important to recognize how much work has been done, and we’re just re-codifying that,” Laurent said. “I myself am about halfway through them, and I will tell you that there’s a lot of still relevant information out there. A lot of the issues we’re struggling with have not changed.”
Staff’s goal is to bring proposed revisions of the first seven chapters back to Planning and Zoning in late September or early October, and to hopefully have something approved by council by the end of the year. Revisions will be posted for public comment on the Open Forum website before they are brought to P and Z.
The first six months of 2015 will be dedicated to Phase 2.
Phase 3, the area plans, will be addressed one area at a time as funding and resources allow. The plans will be prioritized, so those with more urgency, such as Pajarito Mountain and DP Road (which have economic development potential), will take precedence over more fully developed plans such as the Downtown Plan and the White Rock Master Plan.
Commissioner Mary McInerny suggested that since the overriding focus of the comprehensive plan is land use (according to the executive summary, “future land use will be evaluated against” this document), some mention of land use should be made in the vision statement.
Commissioner Michael Redondo wants to be sure the revised document addresses the need for more diversified housing options, noting that many areas that originally held duplexes and quads were populated with single family homes after the Cerro Grande fire.
Laurent responded that staff is working to incorporate housing diversity and affordable housing into the plan without negatively affecting current home owners. She also noted that zoning dictates use and takes precedence over the comprehensive plan, but that new zoning, such as mixed use zoning for the downtown area, is addressing that need.
Commissioners also raised questions about what efforts are being made to increase affordable housing and whether there were ways to incentivize denser land use.
Laurent and her staff will incorporate the commissioners concerns into their efforts and return with a proposal this fall.
“I’d like to congratulate you and the staff for what I think is a giant step forward,” Commissioner Larry Warner said.
“And why do I say that? Because when I asked myself the question, what is the comprehensive plan, and went to the county website to find the answer, what I found was a list of the pieces which appear in this plan, but there was no overarching document that drew it all together.
“But that’s clearly in your thinking. It’s a great step forward, and I congratulate you on that.”