P and Z preps for issues

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Commission: Roach wants the board to be more proactive

By Arin McKenna

In a yearly report to the Los Alamos County Council this month, Planning and Zoning Commission Chair Fred Roach looked well beyond goals for the upcoming year. Roach asked council to consider and advise the commission on several issues through the end of FY2014.

“I believe it’s better to be proactive before major things occur, instead of reacting as they come up as we have in the past,” Roach said.

The longterm planning has to be sandwiched in between more immediate concerns. The P and Z has authority to approve, conditionally approve or disapprove site plans, special use permits and subdivisions.

In the past year, the commission reviewed plans for the White Rock Visitor Center, the Smart House, the new clubhouse at the golf course, new radio towers on the ski hill and a two-lot subdivision in White Rock.

Members of the P and Z expect to review plans for the Trinity Site and the first increment of White Rock’s A-19 development early next year. Roach also said that a pending foreclosure on a local hotel and the one just completed on Los Alamos Plaza could bring those two properties before the commission for redevelopment.

In terms of more comprehensive planning, P and Z was involved in the development of a new sign code this year (following several years of effort) and code revisions designed to streamline building permits.

The commission has also developed a long-term work plan consistent with the county’s newly adopted Management Action Plans, which Roach said will likely have to be revised to adapt to changes during the past year. The department P and Z works most closely with transformed from the Community Development Department to the Community and Economic Development Department, with Anne Laurent as the leader. Other key personnel also left and were replaced with people new to the department.

One of the immediate issues P and Z plans to tackle is a revision of the county’s land use maps. The commission heard the first staff reports Wednesday and will revisit the issue at its Jan. 9 meeting, followed by public hearings on the changes. Roach said that the plan being proposed is similar in many ways to the one currently in use. The commission hopes to adopt the new plan sometime next spring.

The county will also be working on the nuisance code next year. Roach said P and Z may have a part to play in that. A new historic preservation ordinance is also likely to be reviewed during the coming year.

Roach also stressed the need for strategic planning on DP Road, an item not currently on the commission’s agenda. Roach pointed out that DP Road has several potential issues: the school is working to develop land there, TA-21 may be turned over to the county after it is decommissioned and decontaminated, and suggestions have been made to move away from industrial zoning to mixed use that could potentially encompass housing.

“DP Road as a unit has not been on people’s radar or work plans,” Roach said. “There may be a need to change some zoning decisions from the past or develop a master plan. I think we need to take a look at some of these sorts of things more frequently than four or five or 10 years like we have in the past.

“For issues like land use and zoning, it’s almost always better to know what the possible options are for development before someone comes forward with a plan.”

Looking ahead to FY2014, Roach said it may be good to revisit the downtown plan and Creative District, after the Creative District advisory board has a chance to get established and start looking at the issues.

The Environmental Sustainability Board may also have some plans to bring before the commission at that time.

Work has also started on a master plan that would integrate disparate master plans for parks and recreation, open space and cultural elements. P and Z’s involvement will probably begin late in FY2013 or early in FY2014.

Utilities, transportation and land transfers from the Department of Energy could all be on P and Z’s agenda late in FY2014, as well as further work on code changes.

The most significant accomplishment Roach would like to see by the end of FY2014 is a complete update of the Comprehensive Plan, which affects a range of issues from land use to the comprehensive code.

Sections of the Comprehensive Plan have been recently updated, such as the downtown code and affordable housing, but the plan as a whole has not been revised since 1987.

The Planning and Zoning Commission is currently seeking to fill two vacancies on its nine-member board. Laurent urged the community to encourage qualified candidates and those interested in civic volunteering to apply. Roach noted that three current council member have served on P and Z, and they will be joined by Pete Sheehey in January.

“So for those who have aspirations for a higher office, planning and zoning may be one way to try it out,” Roach said.