State of County speech previews future

-A A +A
By Tris DeRoma

Los Alamos County Manager Harry Burgess’ State of the County speech Thursday morning gave listeners a view of how the county was preparing for the future.


All the efforts the county put toward tourism, housing, code enforcement and amenities this year is laying the groundwork for better things to come for residents, businesspeople and residents, Burgess said.

Burgess spoke Thursday to the Los Alamos Chamber of Commerce at the University of New Mexico-Los Alamos.  Many members of County Council, Chamber of Commerce and the public attended.

Burgess talked first about tourism, and how the county had capitalized on the National Park Service’s recent addition of the Manhattan Project National Historical Park. The Los Alamos section is one of the park’s three sections, the other parts being in Hanford Washington and Oak Ridge Tennessee. The Los Alamos section in downtown Los Alamos.

He said that the 20-member Tourism Work Group formed last year will soon release a plan on how Los Alamos County will better be able to capitalize on the thousands of visitors and tourists that come to Los Alamos every year, whether that be for lab business or to visit Bandelier, the Valles Caldera or the  Manhattan Project Historical Park.

“It’s all about capitalizing on the three major elements that attract people to the county,” Burgess said.

“It’s all historical, cultural and natural, “ Burgess said. “We tried to package these and we will be furthering the promotion of our community as a gateway for those three national parks.”

Burgess also talked about how the county is also trying to maintain what it has.

“We’re putting our efforts into making a community that’s attractive and safe,” Burgess said, adding that included uniformly enforcing building code for residents and businesses.

“Council asked staff to get into that, we’ve hired some new personnel, we put a lot of effort into it this last year,” Burgess said.

Part of those efforts included getting dormant commercial buildings at the entrance to Los Alamos County cleaned up, such as the old Hilltop House and Inn. Earlier this year, the county ordered the dormant hotel’s present owners to fix the roof on the building as the owners figure on a plan to open it back up again.  The county has also helped the residents keep their neighborhoods clean.

“We’ve altered our brush and bulk item pick up so we won’t see couches and fridges on the curb, waiting to be picked up, sometimes sitting there for a week or two,” Burgess said.

The county has also reduced customer costs by combining trash pickups on a case-by-case basis. 
Last year was also the year Los Alamos County began to see an increase in tourist dollars being spent in town, thanks to key changes in the county’s restaurant scene.

With Sirphey restaurant now partnering with unQuarked, Bathtub Row Brewery acquiring a patio and the relocation of the Blue Window closer to Los Alamos’ downtown area, more and more visitors are stopping in Los Alamos, Burgess said.

“People used to come up to Bandelier, see the neat things they have there then go back to Santa Fe. The community (didn’t get much) out of their visit, because they did not buy gas, buy food, or stay,” Burgess said. “By expanding those opportunities and expanding the visibility of those opportunities, and consciously working to support those businesses we’re hoping to create a better environment for the business to survive.”

Burgess also talked about housing, and how the county’s efforts to increase the county’s housing stock are vital to ongoing economic development.

“When we’ve been 18,000 people for 25 years, there’s not a lot of prospects for a big box to come and locate,” Burgess said.

He mentioned Los Alamos County Council’s goal of increasing the county’s population from 18,000 to 20,000 by 2020 and how that’s proceeding. He talked about how the county has made efforts to support a developer who is building an affordable housing complex that will consist of 72 apartments on DP Road, and how another developer will soon build an 150-apartment complex off of Trinity Drive, at the site of the former Department of Energy site office near Alpine Laser Dental.
The county’s biggest project toward this goal is the 160-home development that will soon be going on a 60-acre plot of land in White Rock, near NM 4 and the White Rock Visitor’s Center.
Burgess also talked about how the county has streamlined the permit process to help further along all this development. Burgess said they’ve implemented a new system where contractors and residents alike can check online to see where the permit is in the approval process.
We reduced permit time more than half, with smaller permits in many cases turned around in a day,” Burgess said.  “It really helps developers, private homeowners and contractors that work in this community to be more efficient in all their practices.”