Chapter 16 Revision Project Nears Final Phase

Community Development Department Director Paul Andrus

Los Alamos Daily Post

Revising Chapter 16 of the Los Alamos County Code is nearing the home stretch. Work began on revising the chapter, which addresses development, in 2021.

Final approval of the revisions could be made by Council on Nov. 30 but to help shape the final draft that will go before council, a series of joint meetings between Council and the Planning and Zoning Commission were held Oct. 12-14.

Council Chair Randall Ryti

Community Development Department Director Paul Andrus told the Los Alamos Daily Post Monday that some of the main takeaways from the three joint meetings included discussions on buildings’ heights, density in the downtown areas and clear guidance on neighborhood protections, particularly neighborhoods near the downtown areas and areas zoned as mixed use. There also was discussion on parking and lighting requirements.

“We received a lot of input,” Andrus said. “A lot of discussion was on concerns about existing neighborhoods and retaining the character of those existing neighborhoods. I think … what people are starting to understand is that there is not a lot of changes being proposed to established residential areas. Most of the proposed changes have to do with the downtown and some for the White Rock town center and follows the vision that was contained in the downtown plans.”

Planning and Zoning Commissioner Stephanie Nakhleh

Andrus added he feels the proposed changes are improving Chapter 16.

“I think one of the primary reasons for the update is that the code will read in a more logical and easier manner,” he said, pointing out that there are many different residential categories and consolidation of some these categories makes them easier to understand and work with.

The joint council and commission meetings helped with that, too, Andrus said.

“I think the main takeaway from the sessions is we heard a lot from the council and from members of the Planning and Zoning Commission and we got some clarity in various aspects of the code,” he said. “It was extremely helpful to both the staff and the consultant.”

Los Alamos County Council Chair Randall Ryti remarked on the process that has been taken to get to this point.

“The process for updating the development code started with the research and public engagement on the downtown plans in June 2020,” he said. “These downtown plans were integrated into the Comprehensive Plan last year and led to many of the changes being proposed in the development code. The new code will align with the Comprehensive Plan and the community will then see projects planned and completed that move us forward. I’m looking forward to continue to engage the community on this revised development code.”

Although the final version hasn’t been approved, Andrus said the changes are being positively received.

“The feedback we have been getting from interested parties coming in and looking for places to build and create retail spaces is that we are moving in a good direction,” he said. “We will get more feedback when people actually see (the final version) … it will allow staff to work with interested developers, businesses and others wanting to invest in development in the county and it will help all around as a tool.”

Planning and Zoning Commissioner Stephanie Nakhleh agreed.

“I can only speak for myself, but I’m very enthusiastic about these proposed updates to Chapter 16. I think anyone who looks at our hollowed-out downtown, and who sees our dire need for housing, can agree that we need change,” she said. “This refresher has been years in the making, the community has been kept in the loop the entire process, and I’ve been impressed at how many opportunities there have been for public input. What’s notable to me is how well these proposed code changes reflect the policies laid out in the Comprehensive Plan, and in particular, how two very great needs Los Alamos faces — improved housing stock and a better retail environment — could be dramatically improved by these changes. The draft we’re looking at, and the work P&Z and Council put into this during the joint sessions earlier this month, reflects the kinds of updates we’re seeing play out across the country as many municipalities undertake similar updates. The changes in those towns have been really positive and I’m excited for our town to undertake bold steps to help with our severe housing issues, as well as our flagging small-business environment.”

Revising Chapter 16 was necessary, Andrus said. First, the County Code was created in 1965 so changes needed to be made to bring it into the current era. Plus, council approved the downtown master plans, so the development code needs to support the vision in those plans.

He added it feels good to be at this stage.

“The overall effort has been a long, comprehensive undertaking and we are able to help carry it through,” Andrus said. “…it’s been a tremendous undertaking and we feel it’s been a significant accomplishment to get it to this point.”

Work may be winding down on Chapter 16 but there are other chapters that are being looked at. Work is being done to address the nuisance code, which is in Chapter 18 and Andrus said at some point Chapter 10, the building code may need to be updated as well.

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