Residents voice their opinions on Municipal Building plans

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By Jennifer Garcia

White Rock and Los Alamos residents got their chance to be heard last night at the County Council meeting held at the Town Hall in White Rock.

The special session was held so that concerned residents could voice their opinions and concerns regarding the new municipal building slated to be built near Ashley Pond. They also got to speak out about the proposed 15th and Trinity location.

Assistant County Administrator Anthony Mortillaro presented a slide show, which outlined the history of the project and how it came to be.

Mortillaro said the discussion of the development started in 1990 when the first civic center design development project was developed. That was replaced by the downtown master plan, which was adopted in 2002.

“During that time, the master plan was a conceptual plan and not a plan that was necessarily set in stone,” Mortillaro said. According to Mortillaro, in 2006, a municipal ad hoc committee was formed. “They discussed options for a new or renovated municipal building. One recommendation was to look at a private-public project, where the project would be a leveraging project,” Mortillaro continued.

In 2007, the council directed staff to solicit proposals, and several were received. Mortillaro said that one was nonresponsive and it fell short of its goals. Then in 2008, the council advised them to try again and they did. This time only one proposal from DuPont Investments was submitted.

The county had an RFP committee review the proposal and make recommendations to council.

It recommended that if they redid the municipal building, they should do it at 15th and Trinity.

“We met with council on July 31, 2008 and had a good discussion. There was a lot of public attendance,” Mortillaro said. “Since then we’ve had a number of other meetings with the public to solicit input on the project. Tonight is the last meeting in the series of public meetings. Tomorrow night we anticipate that council will review all the information and possibly make a decision. It’s not required, but we have submitted some motions for your consideration.”

Mortillaro then presented a site/building cost comparison matrix, which compared the costs to build the municipal building at the 15th and Trinity site against two plans for the Ashley Pond site.

After Mortillaro’s presentation, Community Director Rick Bohn presented drawings, done by the architect the county hired, of what the buildings in both schemes one and two would look like at the Ashley Pond site. However, Bohn made it clear that the county was not recommending scheme one, and were in favor of scheme two, instead.

“Scheme two replicates the building that is there. The ad hoc committee suggested that if they couldn’t save the building, that they build something similar in the same site,” he said.

“It’s very similar to what we had before. It’s a rectangular building with two floors elevated above the pond. It totals about 47,000 square feet. The Older building was smaller. The new building is about the same heights, its a little bit longer and little wider. The building is pretty much sitting the way it was, and the parking lot is still there,” Bohn said.

Mortillaro said that according to the cost comparison matrix, the 15th and Trinity site would cost a total of $24.8 million, while the scheme two concept at Ashley Pond would cost $20 million. Mortillaro said that there are some additional costs that are economic development add-ons for the 15th and Trinity site, which don’t apply to scheme two.

“There are some additional costs that are related to land costs. We have to pay for the 2.4-acre site it’ll be located on. There are land acquisition costs and a lot of foreign fill on that site that needs to be removed,” Mortillaro said.

Mortillaro said if the Ashley Pond site is redeveloped, it’s estimated to generate $71,346 in new taxes because of the new private investment.

“We looked at the number over a 25-year period and it will generate $46,300 a year for the school district,” Mortillaro said.

The project will generate employment for construction jobs and employment based on the business that would relocate there, Mortillaro said.

Over a 25-year period, the total GRT and property taxes would amount to $49 million. “Revenues alone will pay for the differential between 15th and Trinity and Ashley Pond,” Mortillaro said. “After that its noncommitted revenue we’ll have to deal with.”

Councilor Michael Wheeler voiced his opinion on the project by saying, “Since the late ’80s the county has been attempting to relocate some of the fraternal organizations that occupy premium space in the community, which we’ve all felt have held back the community. I’ve been looking for public/private partnerships, but things continue to decline in spite of my efforts. We’re making some progress on the Trinity site, but there are no signed contracts yet; that’s two years away. Public/private partnerships solve the problems for the community. To me, it looks like a win/win.”

Councilor Ken Milder said that 15th and Trinity shows a benefit to the community of $49 million over 25 years, but “cynics could say, ‘of course that’s optimistic.’ Should we build an office building on the Ashley Pond site? Would using Ashley Pond for an office building be squandering an opportunity for better public purpose? We need to consider this as a community. Why did we go out for an RFP in the first place? Why did we look to the project,” Milder asked.

“We’ve tried some things that haven’t worked and its usually focuses on building more housing. We have a lot of housing in the downtown area. It hasn’t been able to grow and sustain retail activity in the downtown area. It’s time to look outside the box and try different things” he said.

“That’s what we’re doing here. The idea is that the project provides synergy beyond building an office building. Would there be a benefit by doing the 15th and Trinity site? We’ll not only have people working where we want retail to grow and thrive, but there will be people doing business with the people working there.

“We went this route because the public asked us to. So far the input is strong. We’ve had people say they don’t want it there for whatever reason. They want it at Ashley Pond; they don’t trust public/private partnerships.” Milder said.

Lynn Saxon of White Rock said that he liked the idea of redeveloping a section of land that’s been in dire need of redevelopment.

“I like the idea of a cooperative of public and private to do that sort of endeavor. Green space is very important and can be very pretty or very ugly. I’m baffled by why people would want to see the same municipal building,” he said.

Lori Novak, a lifelong Los Alamos resident said that over the past 40 years, not much has changed in Los Alamos. Novak is the co-owner of the Hill Diner and has been in real estate for the past 13 years.

“This is an exciting opportunity for redevelopment and new services, not just at the site but at other sites, as well,” she said.

Alan Wadlinger of White Rock felt strongly about the lack of retail options in Los Alamos.

“Now that I’m retired, I want to go and spend money, but if I have to get in my car, I’m going to make it worth my while,” he said. “There’s a lot more vendors in Santa Fe and Española. It makes no sense for me to shop on the hill if I have to get in my car. If you want my money, you have to build up retail and keep the free bus.”

Nancy Savoia, the president of the Interim Board of Natural Coop Market, said that Los Alamos wants an alternative grocery store.

“We have over 350 members who are wiling to shop here,” she said. “If we give the people what they want, they’ll shop here. If we say yes to Los Alamos, they will respond. This new development is one way to say yes to the future of Los Alamos,”

County Council will meet again today at 7 p.m. in the Community Building to decide, what, if any, action will be taken at this time on the Municipal Building site.