Skate park to break ground

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By Carol A. Clark

Construction is set to begin immediately on the Los Alamos Skate Park in front of Mesa Public Library now that appeals of the Planning and Zoning Commission’s approval of the project’s site plan have been denied.

Following more than three hours of hearings and discussion – and to the delight of a throng of young people in attendance – County Council voted 6-to-1 Tuesday night to uphold the P & Z’s decision.

Councilor Nona Bowman voted against the measure, saying she didn’t think research of other locations was adequate, the proposed size was misleading and the project didn’t meet requirements set forth in the Downtown Master Plan and County Comprehensive Plan.

Bowman, who voted in favor of the site last month, will decide by Aug. 13 whether to ask for discussion of a new site search to be placed on council’s agenda.

Councilor Chair Jim Hall and councilors Jim West and Mike Wheeler expressed dismay that she would contemplate resurrecting the site search issue.

“I urge Councilor Bowman to carefully consider her decision because I believe it will greatly increase the very problem we are trying to solve,” Hall said.

Bowman’s discussion continued for an extended period of time and nearing midnight, West said, “This is one of the most ridiculous things I’ve ever heard this council do.”

West voted against the skate park last month, not because he opposed the site but because of how divisive the issue had become within the community, he said.

Wheeler told council the fact that something could be placed back on the agenda following all the time and effort invested points to a flaw in policy.

“We have signed contracts,” Wheeler said. “This councilor doesn’t want to revisit it. I don’t want to hear anymore about it.”

Council Vice Chair Robert Gibson said he saw no new arguments made in looking for a new location. Councilor Fran Berting agreed and briefly touched on the possibility of placing the site plan issue on the November ballot to let the public decide, but that idea fizzled fast.

Councilor Ken Milder said this morning he is steadfastly protective of a councilor’s right to put something on the agenda and he supports Bowman’s right to do so if that is her decision.

He also said it is his hope she doesn’t follow through because it may establish false expectations for the public.

“The county administrator is issuing notices to proceed with the work this morning and it would be costly to stop the project once it is started,” he said.

The appellants now have the option to appeal to district court but would first have to get a judge to order a stay of execution of the contract, Milder said.

Hall discussed the outcome of meeting and said this morning he has tremendous respect for the appellants, describing them as outstanding citizens and expressing hope that in the end, everyone will come together and accept the project.

Appellants Morris Pongratz and Jack Hanlon addressed council at the beginning of Tuesday’s meeting, as did attorney Frank Herdman on behalf of appellant Colleen Hanlon.

Herdman explained that the site for the skate park is located within the Downtown Master Plan zoning district, which is included in the county’s Comprehensive Plan.

“The Downtown Master Plan calls for the downtown area to be, ‘green, vital, comfortable and safe,’ and having ‘continuous green space network’ that encompasses the location for the proposed skate park,” Herdman said.

He told council the plan does not indicate or even “remotely contemplate the construction of a large, impervious concrete skate park” in that area.

“Obviously, a great deal and expense, as well as extensive community participation, was devoted to the development and adoption of the Downtown Master Plan,” Herdman said. “The failure by the applicant in this case, the county, to provide the commission with a copy of the Downtown Master Plan, and the resulting failure by the commission to have any meaningful consideration or review as to whether a skate park complied with that plan, is a complete affront to the planning and development process to which the county  committed itself in adopting the Downtown Master Plan.”

Hall and other councilors disagreed, saying P & Z did take the plan into consideration when determining that the proposed site met all 13 requirements.

Jack Hanlon also argued that the site plan does not satisfy the criterion that the site plan “shall substantially conform to the Comprehensive Plan and shall not be materially detrimental to the health, safety and general welfare of the county.”

Pongratz – who, along with the Hanlons, lives adjacent to the skate park site in 2500 Central – told council, “For me, this hearing has a Kafkaesque atmosphere.”

In a normal appeal of a P & Z decision, the council would indeed be an impartial third body, he said, and the developer of the proposed project would not have a decision-making role and not be a party to the hearing.

“However, in this proceeding, we are appealing to the very developer that made what we regard as the wrong choice,” Pongratz said. “In view of these unusual circumstances, I would hope that the council would forsake the fiction that the developer is not a party and that the proposed skate park location cannot be discussed. We hope that we do not have a schizophrenic county government.”

Los Alamos County Attorney Mary McInerny stepped aside for the appeal hearing and the county contracted with an outside attorney, Felicia Orth, to advise council on points of law. Hall said Orth had no involvement whatsoever in the case.

Assistant County Attorney Charles Rennick addressed council on behalf of Los Alamos County Community Services Director Stephani Johnson who is the project applicant.

Council is scheduled to meet again at 6 p.m. Thursday in Council Chambers to discuss the West Jemez Bypass road options and options for the construction of a new municipal building. The meeting is open to the public.