Los Alamos County Manager Harry Burgess
By KIRSTEN LASKEY
Los Alamos Daily Post
COVID-19 took center stage in 2020 but, as Los Alamos County Manager Harry Burgess revealed during Thursday’s virtual Chamber Business meeting, the County still accomplished a lot last year.
Before Burgess presented his 2020 State of the County report, Los Alamos Chamber of Commerce Director Ryn Herrmann commented on Burgess’ recent announcement that he is retiring this year.
“I know I speak for everyone that you are going to be missed,” she said.
In his report, Burgess discussed the pandemic.
“Obviously, the pandemic had a big impact on everyone and everything that went on this past year,” he said. “From the County’s perspective we had to adapt and address things in a similar fashion as everyone else in the community … I’ve been pleasantly surprised with how well we achieved that (and) I am not talking just about the County but everyone …”
The pandemic affected every aspect of County business, Burgess said. Not only were County meetings formatted differently but unique measures were taken to continue services including providing public transit, issuing construction permits and maintaining utilities and streets, he said, adding that the County continuously adapted to the changing directions of the governor’s public health order.
Burgess commended County staff for navigating through the challenges COVID presented.
“I do want to express my appreciation for all the employees that have adapted … we have been able to provide services … our focus has always been to provide the highest level of service under the existing public health order,” he said.
Navigating through ever-changing obstacle course the pandemic presented wasn’t the only County achievement, Burgess discussed a lengthy list of accomplishments.
A few County achievements Burgess highlighted:
Canyon Walk Apartments
The Canyon Walk Apartments, a 70-unit affordable housing apartment complex is being constructed off DP Road. The project was originally expected to be completed in December; however, the state granted an extension for March.
Black Hole site
Forty-two townhomes will be built on property that formerly held a A-frame church and the Black Hole store off Arkansas Street. Burgess said the townhomes will be market rate and individually owned.
So far, 38 certificates of occupancies were issued for the Mirador housing development located off NM 4 in White Rock, towards the goal of having 163 houses constructed. The next phase of the development project is to build 50 market rate apartments with space for retail, he said.
Another new apartment complex is planned to be built on property off Trinity Drive, near 35th Street. The complex, The Hill Apartments, includes approximately 160 market rate apartments. The project has experienced delays due COVID and the developers requested an extension for the closing during the Jan. 5 Council meeting, Burgess said.
North Mesa Housing Project
The County and the Los Alamos Public Schools (LAPS) have entered a memorandum of agreement (MOA) to possibly develop housing on 29 acres on North Mesa. Burgess said the MOA addresses how the County and LAPS will work together and achieve goals. The main goal, he said, is to develop housing for those who fall in the “doughnut hole” or individuals who earn $60,000-$100,000 – too much for low-income housing but not enough for market-rate housing.
Construction of three of the four recreation capital improvement projects (CIPs) happened in 2020, he said. Work on the splash pad, the ice rink locker rooms and restrooms and golf course irrigation occurred. Construction on the multigenerational pool is expected to begin this year.
Women Auxiliary Corps (WAC) Building
The County purchased the former dormitory that housed women who worked at the Manhattan Project, Burgess said. So far, vegetation was removed, and architects were hired to do an initial review on the building. The County is in the process of hiring a consultant to work with partner agencies and hold public meetings to determine how best to use the building. Burgess said the hope is to incorporate the building into the Manhattan Project National Historical Park’s downtown historic walking tour. Another interesting idea is to return the building to its original use – dormitories for season Park Service workforce or students, he said.
CB Fox and Real Deal Properties
The County is considering purchasing the buildings that formerly held CB Fox department store and Reel Deal move theater. At present, he said, the County is in a due diligence period. If purchased, although no decisions have been made, the County could maintain retail businesses in the downtown and utilize infrastructure at the Reel Deal for multitude of community uses including a performing arts center, social services and a tween center.
Natural Grocers opened off Trinity Drive last year. Burgess said to have a new business, which is competitive with a local business, willing to make an investment in the community indicates a healthy economy.
The New Mexico Department of Transportation’s roundabout on NM 502 is nearly completed Burgess said the project is currently on hold but the state anticipates returning to finish it in the spring.
The section of Trinity Drive that starts east of Diamond Drive near the Los Alamos Medical Center entrance and ends west of Oppenheimer Drive was reduced from four lanes to three lanes, at the suggestion of the state department of transportation, Burgess said. Furthermore, 35th street is being realigned to accommodate The Hill Apartments. He added the County is working with Los Alamos Medical Center to move its entrance on Trinity Drive to the eastern edge of their current parking lot; additionally, planning is underway to possibly have an alternate entrance to the hospital off 35th Street.
DP Road improvements
The County invested in new infrastructure to support the Canyon Walk Apartments on DP Road, Burgess said. Utilities were extended to the eastern edge of new apartments. Plus, council approved an additional $4 million to extend utilities all the way down DP Road and repave the road.
Eco Station Compost Program
Environmental Services and the Environmental Sustainability Board is working to conduct a food waste composting feasibility study. The goal is to have a pilot project and eventually provide more options for the community to engage in composting. Burgess said the Environmental Services Division was awarded a grant to promote composting.
Kudos to LAC
Burgess reported that Los Alamos racked up numerous recognitions in 2020. U.S. News and World Report named it the healthiest community in the U.S. Furthermore, Niche.com called Los Alamos the best County to live within, the location with the best public schools and the best place to buy a home in America. Finally, the National Council for Home Safety ranked Los Alamos the safest city in New Mexico.