Skate park contract approved; Faster Internet service for community dominates discussion

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By Katy Korkos

Council approved four items on Tuesday’s consent agenda with one 4-to-0 vote, including the approval of a contract with California Skateparks to design and build a skate park in front of Mesa Public Library, in the amount of $500,275. Council had reaffirmed its support for the skate park location at the Feb. 12 meeting. The site plan for the park must still go to the planning and zoning commission for approval, although the location itself is not in question.Community Services Director Stephani Johnson said in the agenda document she prepared for council that the public would have an opportunity to review and comment on the design as it is developed.Council Chair Jim Hall added that Councilor Jim West was in the hospital, Councilor Michael Wheeler was on travel and Councilor Fran Berting, who was also not feeling well, would be a little late but was on her way. Berting arrived shortly after the consent agenda was passed.

Broadband discussion

A discussion of faster Internet service for the community dominated Tuesday’s council session, and the five councilors who attended agreed that a broadband service in the county is necessary to attract residents and businesses, enhance the quality of life, and create the capability to keep pace with technological advances Los Alamos residents both want and need.The thornier issues lie in just how far to take fiber infrastructure, whether to bring fiber to every curb, whether to provide it using a retail or wholesale model, whether private companies are interested in creating the network or merely leasing facilities from the county, to what extent it would need to be subsidized by the county and to what extent it could be piggy-backed on a fiber network that will be built to link county facilities.After more than six months of extensive study, Department of Public Utilities Manager Robert Buck Monday concluded that it would not be feasible for his department to undertake the construction and service of a broadband network for the county. The department is required by its charter to be self-sustaining.Monday presented the conclusions to council but stopped short of saying that it could not be done.“I do believe this is hugely important – a necessity if we’re going to have economic development,” Monday said. “It’s probably not a paying proposition, though. If it were, someone would be doing it.”Councilor Robert Gibson agreed, adding “I think we’re in a situation comparable to what many smaller communities were in the ’20s and ’30s with electrification and telephone. I don’t think we can wait.”“Communities our size are being overlooked by the big (telecommunications) companies,” Councilor Ken Milder said, as council directed staff to prepare a proposal that would be a hybrid of the county’s internal broadband plans and a more commercial operation for residents and businesses.

Long-range financial plan

The discussion on broadband access for the community continued as part of the larger capital improvement picture as Steven Lynne, the county’s chief financial officer, asked the council for its continuing input on the capital improvement program in the long-range financial plan, in advance of budget hearings for the county’s biennial budget for the fiscal years 2009-2010. Those hearings will take place in April.“Now we’ll go from ‘what if?’ to more of a policy plan,” Lynne said. “The discussion we just had is a great example.”Councilors asked Lynne to assign numbers to items that are listed in the capital improvement plan without budget figures. Gibson said he had asked Lynne to prepare a projection that would include property-tax reductions to benefit the schools, as well as placeholders for installing broadband infrastructure, repairing the reservoir, implementing of the White Rock Master Plan, building a civic center, replacing Fire Station #4 and covering the county’s share of costs to widen East Road.“We make bigger mistakes by ignoring things (than by making ballpark estimates),” Gibson said. Using those ballpark estimates, Gibson’s projection showed a $5 million shortfall in 2011.Councilor Nona Bowman also prioritized a list of projects. “I feel that we only have one opportunity to make this town attractive,” Bowman said. “We must go ahead on the White Rock Master Plan, on the golf course club house, a new municipal building, the judicial police jail complex, the reservoir and a civic center.”She added that only three counties in New Mexico have lower property taxes than Los Alamos. “We are helping the schools with what we’re doing with Trinity Site,” Bowman.

 Rezoning approved

A public hearing on the rezoning of parcels A-8-A and A-8-B from “federal land” to “very high-density residential” was also held on Tuesday, and resulted in council’s adoption of the ordinance, in a 5-to-0 vote. The parcels of land comprise more than 24 acres, and are slated to become the residential component of Trinity Site development. Community Development Director Rick Bohn assured council that the passage of the ordinance does not mean that an owner could build the maximum number of units on the site without further regulation by the county.“The planning and zoning commission, site plan approval and developer agreements will all regulate the actual construction that goes on,” Bohn said. He added that the developer’s plans currently show a density of about 12 units per acre, for a total of 300 units on the site. Under the new zoning, buildings can have a maximum height of 50 feet. Bohn added that Oppenheimer Place and Aspen Ridge are both examples of buildings constructed under the “very high density” zoning.Council’s next meeting will be held at 7 p.m. on March 4 in Council Chambers at 475 20th St.