County sells vacant parcel for parking lot

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By Bennett Horne

Los Alamos County is splitting a parcel of land on NM 502 in order to sell it to a buyer who needs more parking space for his currently empty neighboring building.

The sale of the property, located at 457 East Road between Los Alamos County Fire Station No. 6 and the old TRK Building, was approved during Tuesday’s meeting of the county council.

Leadership Circle, LLC, out of Montrose, Colorado, is purchasing the property. Matt Miles owns the company, which took ownership of the TRK Building late last year. He said he expects “about 100 to 120” new parking spaces to be made available on the new lot which, in turn, should make it easier for the company to get an occupant for the vacant building.

The TRK Building is currently lacking about 25 to 35 spaces, depending on occupancy use and space on the other side of the building is unavailable, due to the constraints of a lease from East Park Pool.

Tuesday’s vote was unanimous by councilors Morris Pongratz, Rick Reiss and Susan O’Leary, who was attending via conference call, and Councilor Christine Chandler, who, as the vice-chair, was filling in for Chair David Izraelevitz.

Councilors Antonio Maggiore and Pete Sheehey were absent and Izraelevitz arrived after the meeting had started after attending another meeting in Santa Fe.

Chandler said her vote was “reluctantly yes” because of concerns she had related to the TRK Building.

“My concerns center on the fact that we have a building that’s poorly constructed and has been from its inception,” she said. “There was a period of time when laboratory personnel had to be removed from the building because of structural concerns, which were eventually shored up. It’s never had enough parking from the day it was built. I see this transaction as the county participating in an arrangement to prop up a building that’s not a good building, was never a good building and wasn’t constructed well.”

She added, “Frankly, if you’ve ever worked in that building you would not want to work in that building.”

Chandler said she felt she was being put in the position of being asked to support something that is “really bad policy” and a really bad thing for the county to be doing in terms of promoting the continued use of a building that really should “probably be (taken) completely to the ground.”

She added, “I’m not particularly happy about being in that position and I’ll do my best to do what I think is right.”

The property’s purchase price ended up being $1,045 higher than the original January appraisal estimate.

“The appraisal was done based off of a 32,000 square-foot parcel,” said Joanie Ahlers, the county’s economic development administrator. “The appraisers just kind of ball parked the amount of land. We were close but not 100 percent perfect. The parcel did end up being 32,212 square feet, which is $5.31 per square foot. So when you do the math the appraisal says $170,000 but we’re actually selling a little more than the appraisal so it comes in at $171, 045.”

Ahlers said that after the purchase the new owner would probably have the property rezoned from public land to C-1 status, which would match the zoning of the TRK Building.

The property will be deeded for parking only, but not all of it will be used for parking.

“We’re not going to export or import any fill from the site,” said Miles. “It is steep, so basically the center portion of the site is going to be flattened out with a rock or stacked rock retaining wall along the bottom edge. In theory we can get a lot more parking on it than what we’re going to try, but we don’t want to go through too much import or export on the fill.”

The purchase agreement also specifies that the buyer agrees to landscape the right of way, which is NM 502 frontage, and that the landscape will include a minimum of four trees, a minimum of six shrubs and will be completed at the time of the parking lot construction.”

Work will also be done to make the parcel look good on the end facing Canyon Rim Trail with plenty of space between the parking area and the trail.

“Most of the trees will be remaining along the bottom southern edge of the property,” said Ahlers. “There are a number of large trees on the property line. They’re going to be utilizing some of the runoff drainage to passively water those trees to hopefully ensure their survival.”

Ahlers said there will be about 40 feet of buffer between the trail and the new parking area.

“I’m happy that staff has worked to make sure there is some buffer space with the trail and to ensure that there is some landscaping so there will not negatively impact the experience of the walkers on the rim trail,” said Chandler. “That has assuaged some of my concerns, but not entirely.”

Ahlers added that the existing paved access from NM 502 to Canyon Rim Trail would be relocated from the west side of the property to the east side next to the fire station.

“The county wanted to maintain the eastern entrance to Canyon Rim Trail because it’s across from East Park parking lot,” she said. “There is currently a cross walk there and when the roundabout gets constructed there on 502 that will actually be a developed crosswalk. It will be painted and marked.”

Ahlers said a driveway connecting the new parking area with the current lot at the TRK Building would be built where the access to Canyon Rim Trail is currently located.

Miles, who said he expects to close on the property “in about 45 days” with construction starting immediately after closing, is currently working on getting the necessary building permits as well as final approval of the parking lot’s design.