Letter To The Editor: Should Have A Say In Our Town

By GEORGE CHANDLER
Los Alamos

The Comprehensive Plan was completed in 1987. By now even the updates are outdated. An effort to rewrite the whole plan in the early 2000’s produced only a Vision Statement and Policy Plan, adopted in 2005, that is now cited by the Community and Economic Development Department (CEDD) as “the Comprehensive Plan.”

This is 19 pages of aspirational platitudes that are so vague and ambiguous that they are useless to anyone attempting to satisfy the requirements of applications for permits and rezoning, or anyone attempting to defend their neighborhood against one of these applications. You’d think at least the County Attorney would notice a problem here (not to mention the obsolescence of the Development Code – another story for another day).

My neighborhood experienced the consequences of this ad hoc plan first-hand last year when UNM-LA applied to redevelop the apartments on Ninth Street. The CEDD worked with UNM-LA to develop a proposal to the council for joint funding of the project, then it coordinated with UNM-LA’s Denver developer to plan for a non-conforming oversize structure, and then it attempted to fast-track a rezoning through the Planning and Zoning Commission (P&Z) using the Policy Plan as the justification. Our neighborhood challenged it at P&Z and UNM withdrew, but the Policy Plan, which should have protected us, and the CEDD, which should have been neutral, both worked against us.

Last week at a work session the Council reviewed the permitting process. A parade of citizens criticized the process by which we must obtain rezoning or permits for special uses, buildings, sheds, signs, new roofs, etc., mostly on grounds that the processes are not transparent, they are poorly executed, inconsistent, and time-consuming. The CEDD clearly recognizes the problems, but the administration and the council do not seem to be making them a high priority. 

The P&Z by state and county law is responsible to review and update the comprehensive plan, but it has been left out of the process.  can find only two meetings in the last year and a half where the plan was discussed. In both of those meetings the CEDD staff simply made reports to the P&Z. It’s not clear the P&Z has had any role at all in what is supposed to be a P&Z activity. 

There have been no neighborhood or other meetings to gather public input for planning the future of neighborhoods and the town. Other specialized plans that should be part of the comp plan are being developed by groups operating independently and seemingly with no central coordination – an example is the Open Space Plan recently heard by the council. It’s chaotic.

Something is seriously out of whack here, and I lay it at the feet of the council, County Manager, and the County Attorney. It’s not like this is something new; I and others have been complaining to the council, County Attorney, and the CEDD about these things for years. The gradual decay of these important legal processes should be corrected sooner rather than later.

The comp plan and the permitting process are both sword and shield for the citizens of a community. The comp plan should provide clear guidelines for neighborhoods to evolve based on the wishes of their residents. It should facilitate appropriate development consistent with those wishes and protect against development that is not consistent. Oh yes –  it should be comprehensive, not just one of a dozen plans floating around.

Instead it appears the County Manager has determined the CEDD will develop the comp plan internally and with as little community involvement as possible. We have an example of the CEDD mindset: what they tried to do on Ninth Street, presumably with the approval of the County Manager. Maybe they think that an occasional report to P&Z or a presentation to the League of Women Voters counts as community input. Maybe it’s inconvenient, or they don’t have anybody who knows how to facilitate a public meeting, or maybe they think they can just present us with a plan and ignore the comments. The council either doesn’t recognize what’s going on or maybe councilors are reluctant to challenge the manager.

That’s not the way I think this should work. This is our town. You and I get to have a say in what happens in our town and our neighborhoods, and the planners’ job is to implement what we want, not tell us what we should want. I want our input first, up front, before the staff  has locked onto some scheme they brought down from Denver or Los Angeles. 

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