White Rock: Let's Make a Deal

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By Marganne Glasser

More than 100 participants attended Thursday night’s town hall meeting on the White Rock economic development plan.

Jay Renkens, a project manager with the consulting firm MIG Inc., began the discussion. “We want to create a ‘there’ there, with a sense of place, a reason to stop and the amenities you deserve,” he said.

Creating a reason for traffic that usually passes through to stop and spend money would be important to sustaining the project, he added.

The scenario that has emerged as the best is to concentrate development at N.M. 4 and Sherwood Boulevard, with an anchor on each corner, Renkens said. The new library would be in the northwest corner, a tourism center in the northeast, senior and youth centers in the southwest and Smith’s at its current location, he suggested.

Renkens recapped the plan’s highlights. The first phase would be to develop the visitor’s center, improve N.M. 4 and install archways as a visual marker. The midterm phase would include improvement of Piñon Park and a new municipal complex. The third phase would be developing mixed-use structures and housing, he said.

Renkens said that the arroyo, currently seen as a deficit, would be developed to be an asset as green space, better linking the town and the area north of N.M. 4.

Renkens spoke of the need to attract additional funding, including federal and state, so the entire burden would not be on taxpayers.

“I am very pleased to see a new White Rock branch library as part of the plan,” said library board member Thelma Hahn, but she had concerns about accessibility, parking and pedestrian access with the planned location of the library on a second floor above retail space.

“It appears to subordinate the library to retail, she said, “if the retail stores close, we would be in a less than optimal position.”

Several citizens also objected to situating the library north of the highway and suggested it be in the southwest corner with the youth and senior centers.

Rose Colgate expressed concern about the safety of crossing N.M. 4. “A library should be closest to the people who use it,” she said.

“Nothing is going to happen north of (the highway) until it is crossable and safe,” Renkens said.

Several people suggested a restaurant in the northwest quadrant. Mike Luna, former owner of Home Run Pizza, said, “We are aching to put a new restaurant in White Rock. Where? Give me a hand here. I have partners; we want to build. If you’re serious about that, contact me tomorrow.”

Facilitator Robert Peccia pointed out that Stan Primak and Scott Weiss of Primak Builders, the selected site contract firm, were present.

“So we have a deal?” said Peccia with a smile.

Lynne Dominy, chief of interpretation services at Bandelier National Monument, said 250,000-300,000 visitors pass through every year. She said White Rock can provide amenities that Bandelier cannot, such as RV hook-ups with electricity and water, places to walk dogs and bike trails.

Dominy and others suggested that a transportation hub be developed. Requests included shuttles to Bandelier and Española, and interpreted tours.

Arthur Sander asked what guarantees there were that the planned retail could survive. He said White Rock used to have vibrant retail until owners discovered they could make more money renting to the lab.

Kevin Holsapple, executive director of the Los Alamos Chamber of Commerce, said businesses need traffic. “They live and die in traffic. Rent is 10 times as high at some places in Santa Fe, and what makes it work is the traffic available.”

Holsapple said business incubation services, with small offices, short-term leases, shared administrative services and counseling on small business development is also planned.

Terry Fox said he had been a partner of a winery in Pajarito Acres. He was surprised at how many people made the trek to visit it on a tip from a concierge or word of mouth. “I implore the council to spend a little more advertising and promoting,” he said. “We have to promote what we have – one of the most beautiful spots in northern New Mexico, if not in the state.”

“If we’re going to bring tourists into this town, we need to communicate with the lab about clear labeling,” said Stacy Gartz. She described taking pictures along N.M. 4 just past Monterey South and an armed person demanding she delete her photos.

“So, sensitivity training for anybody carrying a weapon,” Peccia  said, eliciting laughter.

Several audience members expressed skepticism about planned housing development. “It’s almost unconscionable if we put housing against the highway,” said Terry Fox. “It’s prime retail space.”

Manuel Baca said the county needs to make the housing that already exists more affordable. “A lot of people from Española and Chimayo who work at the lab drive up and down this road every day. They would love to live here. I have two employees from Española who can’t afford to.”

Katy Korkos of the Chamber of Commerce said White Rock needs more housing choices. She said there are 12-14 apartments and six to eight condos, and the rest is single family units. She said she closed her restaurant, Katherine’s, because it was very difficult to find help. A concentration of retail with affordable housing could attract workers, she said.

“I’d like some assurance we won’t see those ugly baffles for sound along the highway,” said Heddy Dunn.

In conclusion, County Councilor Ken Milder commended the nine-member volunteer steering committee for representing the concerns of the community.

MIG Inc. will present its final recommendation to the county council in June. Public comments in writing or through the website are invited through May 23.

The draft master plan is available at White Rock Branch Library or at www.planningwhiterock.org.