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Last Sunday’s (April 13, 2008) Monitor editorial admitted understandable confusion about the approvals for the Skate Park and “hoped someone in the county can set us straight.” This is an attempt to do so.Much of the confusion arises from the county government’s two distinct roles in public projects. It is the “owner” of the project. It also is the “regulator” with responsibility to determine that the project meets all legal requirements applicable to any owner. These involve two different processes moving in parallel, as they would for a private project. As owner, the county decides whether we want a project (building, park, road, etc), how much we are willing to pay for it and where it should be. For the Skate Park, county council decided the first two questions four years ago. The location was established in June 2007, and affirmed in February. Council also must approve associated contracts and the design. The Skate Park design was reviewed at the April 15 council meeting. These are steps very similar to what any other property owner would follow to build something.The regulatory side is very different and largely under the purview of the Planning and Zoning Commission (P&Z). Recreational facilities, like the existing playlot, are allowed by the zoning of the area next to Mesa Library, so P&Z approval to locate the Skate Park there was not required. But P&Z now must determine whether details of the design, embodied in a site plan, conform to legal requirements in county code. That is the purpose of its hearing coming up Wednesday. Any private owner would go through the same process.P&Z, not county council, makes the decision on site plans. If P&Z determines that the site plan does not meet legal criteria, it won’t approve, regardless of any design approval by council. P&Z makes the ultimate decision for anyone’s project. P&Z in this respect acts much like a court in interpreting and applying the law to the specific case.When considering site plans, P&Z does not consider the desirability, general location or cost of the project. Council has made those determinations. It looks only at whether the site plan conforms to legal criteria.Should someone believe P&Z errs in their interpretation or application of law, the case can be appealed to county council. Council then puts on a different hat and acts much like an appellate court. If council determines P&Z’s decision was not in conformance with the code, it sends the case back to P&Z with its guidance for rehearing. P&Z is good; appeals are not common.Simply put, there are two processes moving in parallel. That may be confusing, but both are being followed. There is nothing unusual about how this project is being handled.Why did the project take so long to come to fruition with site selection led by the Los Alamos Police Department instead of the Parks Division? Frankly, the job was initially assigned by the county administrator to Parks. Nothing happened for more than two years. Police Chief Wayne Torpy was asked to help get the project moving. He did.The kids, the majority of the community and council want this long-delayed project to be completed. Necessary practical and legal steps remain. Those will happen properly — as they have throughout this project.
Robert B. Gibson is vice-chair of the Los Alamos County Council.