UNM-LA housing proposal not fair

-A A +A

Editor: We believe it is appropriate to explain our position on the pending rezoning of the apartments owned by UNM-LA on 9th street. A more detailed version of this letter can be found at lamonitor.com.

UNM-LA has owned these apartments for about 20 years. They have never done any serious maintenance or renovation and the buildings have been allowed to deteriorate. UNM-LA says it must replace these apartments to provide student housing. It says that the buildings cannot be renovated. Other similar buildings have already been renovated or are being renovated. UNM-LA has refused to discuss renovation with the people who have done it.
UNM-LA and the county are working on a memorandum of understanding under which the county and UNM-LA will split the cost of demolition and waste abatement, around $700,000. UNM-LA has chosen a Denver developer to design, build and manage the proposed new apartments. They are to be a mix of student housing and “workforce housing,” (aka, affordable housing).
Current rules would allow only 41 units to be built if the lot were redeveloped. Apparently to avoid this inconvenience, and to make the project more economically attractive to the developer, the county has facilitated the process to rezone the property to R3H-40: the highest density available in Los Alamos — density of 43.6 du per acre, maximum height of 50 feet, 20 feet front and 15 feet rear setbacks, allowing the construction of 81 or 82 units. Unfortunately for them the zone also carries a minimum lot size of 2.0 acres, but no fear, the county is also facilitating a waiver for their partner, whose lot is sadly somewhat less than the minimum.
We own a house on 9th Street and the front of our house is about 87 feet from the face of the existing apartment building. The first thing we, and our neighbors noticed was that the R3H-40 zone would allow the developer to build a 50 feet wall about 82 feet from our front doors. Not to mention the effect of 80 or so new housing units on traffic and parking. We encouraged UNM-LA to hold a neighborhood meeting.
After several, sometimes raucous meetings UNM-LA, the county and its developer have reluctantly agreed to make some minor changes that would have a major impact. Last week the developer showed us a new drawing with two buildings: one 35 feet high on the Northern ¾ of the property, and a 50 feet high building on the South. Vehicle access can be only from Iris Street, which would minimize traffic on 9th and Myrtle streets — in sum, major improvements.
There are still huge problems. It is a very-high-density development on the low-density fringe of an area that has been designated in the comprehensive plan as a transition zone from heavy commercial and high density residential to single-family residential. At least three other similar properties in the area will almost certainly be asking to be rezoned to R3H-40 — transforming this neighborhood into a high density urban zone, contrary to the comprehensive plan and to basic precepts of land use planning. The minimum lot size is not just a bureaucratic barrier: the minimum lot size protects against super-high effective densities. The minimum lot size represents the planning community’s best estimate of the level at which something has to give undesirably (think singularity!): either the building has to go up or the floor area of dwelling units has to shrink. Finally, the sight lines and snow melt for residents on Myrtle Street are negatively impacted by the new plan.
We believe there are a number of solutions available, if UNM-LA and the county would listen rather than just plow ahead with the developer’s plan. We have proposed these in meetings with county planners and in meetings with UNM-LA. The easiest is to capitalize on the experience of local building owners who have renovated their buildings. Next, create a new zone (let’s call it R3H-30) that would recognize the current reality: 32 du per acre, 35 feet, 20 feet setbacks. They could tear down the old buildings and replace them with the same number of units, problem solved. It’s very easy to create a new zone.
Nobody wants fixed the mess that UNM-LA has allowed to develop across the street from our Blue Heaven more than we do. We do not enjoy the irony that UNM-LA is claiming the right to destroy our neighborhood by citing a situation that they created by their negligence. We have offered any number of solutions including those above and are patronized by the county and ignored by UNM-LA. They want us to just sit here and believe what they say as they cram this project down our throats.
Not gonna happen.

Chris and George Chandler
Los Alamos