WR plans gets green light

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By Carol A. Clark

Cheers broke out from the audience Tuesday as county council members unanimously accepted the White Rock Downtown Master Plan/Economic Development Strategy.

The plan calls for gateway arches and signage to welcome visitors to town and a mixed-use town center with lush landscaping and pedestrian-friendly features. The plan also includes a new visitor’s center and library and a transportation hub with space for recreational vehicle parking.

Placing the $20 million, 12-year plan on the fast track to “prudent and beneficial implementation” was the resounding call of the evening by steering committee members, project consultants and councilors alike.

During the meeting, held at the White Rock Fire Station, Councilor Fran Berting said, “It’s important to keep up the momentum. The public is ready for something to happen and I think we need to make sure that it happens.”

Councilor Nona Bowman expressed her desire to see the project succeed and agreed it should be moved along.

Kent Budge read a letter of unanimous endorsement of the plan by the White Rock Center Downtown Master Plan Steering Committee, of which he is a member.

The committee called for expediting the immediate actions of the plan.

“The momentum on the White Rock Downtown Master Plan is perishable,” Budge said.

Council Chair Jim Hall praised the work of the White Rock Center Downtown Master Plan Steering Committee.

“This just shows once more how valuable our citizens are,” Hall said. “This document wouldn’t be near what it is without the efforts and dedication of this committee.”

Vice Chair Robert Gibson questioned whether sufficient staffing levels exist or if additional employees would need to be employed to implement the plan.

“I realize that momentum is perishable but there’s practical constraints with the staff we already have,” Gibson said.

County Administrator Max Baker explained that Rick Bohn and his Community Development Department (CDD) would take the lead on the project. Baker also mentioned that two full-time employees have already been added to a newly created project management department and a new department head will be hired in the near future.

Steve Brugger, CDD project manager for the plan development, presented highlights of input gathered from community members during public meetings.

“One thing that came about from the input we received is that many people said they wanted the library located on the south side of N.M. 4,” Brugger said.

Consultant Daniel Guimond, a principal with Economic & Planning Systems Inc. (EPS), suggested developing branding and an identity, and forming a White Rock business organization in the mid-term as answers to Councilor Ken Milder’s question of how to market White Rock.

Formation of the Downtown Master Plan/Economic Development Strategy really got underway 12 months ago when Los Alamos County hired Moore Iacofano Goltsman (MIG), a firm that specializes in downtown planning.

Jay Remkins, project manager from MIG, has worked in-depth on the plan and strategy for a year. He made the audience laugh when he said, “Every town that we work in insists that they’re different and maybe there are a few nuances – but I can truly say that White Rock and Los Alamos are different.”

After MIG was hired, council formed the steering committee and began holding public information meetings last July. The committee has guided the efforts with help from CDD staff ever since. Many White Rock residents also have participated in the process.

The first draft of the plan was discussed at a March 18 council work session. MIG released the second draft April 30 for which council held a public meeting May 5. At that meeting, councilors tentatively approved the allocation of $200,000 for conceptual design to begin in FY09.

Council also gave tentative approval of $300,000 in FY09 and $1.5 million in FY10 for other planning and initial implementation activities. An estimated $20 million was approved for the implementation of the plan’s other major elements between FY2011-20.

Public comment on the second draft closed May 26 and since then the CDD has worked with MIG and the steering committee to review and address comments received from community members.

The county’s primary reason for commissioning the White Rock Downtown Master Plan/Economic Development Strategy is to create short and long-term plans of action to reverse the perceived decline of White Rock’s commercial areas, to improve the community’s image as more than a separated bedroom community, and to make it a more vibrant, convenient, and economically developed location with sustained commercial and retail activity.

Councilors Mike Wheeler and Jim West were out of town Tuesday and could not attend the council meeting.

The next council meeting is set for 7 p.m. Tuesday in Council Chambers at the Community Building on 20th Street and Central Avenue. The meeting is open to the public.