Planning and Zoning Approves Trinity Place Site Plan 7-1

Update: Video of hearing added.
The presented site plan image for Trinity Place.  Click the image for a high resolution view. Courtesy image

By GREG KENDALL
Los Alamos Daily Post

Wednesday night, Feb. 28, the Planning and Zoning Commission of Los Alamos voted to approve the Kroger submitted site plan for the Trinity Place development. 

The vote was 7 to 1 with Avivah Smith-Nelson in the minority. Commissioner Catherine Mockler recused herself as her business, the Pajarito Brewpub and Grill is within 300 yards of the Trinity Site property. Mockler sat in the audience and asked a question regarding landscaping during the site plan hearing.

Kroger’s site plan includes a 110,315-square-foot Smith’s Marketplace grocery and merchandise store. Also included are two retail buildings measuring 6,000-square-foot and 7,200-square-foot with a picnic patio between the buildings.  

Four other buildings are pictured on the site plan but not included in the requested approval items for the site plan. Two of the four other buildings were marked as “Future Restaurant” and two were marked as “Future Retail.”

When and if these future buildings are ready to go forward, Kroger will return to Planning and Zoning to seek approval of separate site plans for each of these four areas of the Trinity Place site.

The approved site plan includes sidewalks and many trees dispersed across the property as part of a landscape plan that was scrutinized by county staff. Multiple versions of the site plan have been reviewed by county staff.  Kroger has made multiple adjustments as a result of input from staff. 

One issue that was worked out was the placement of large trash bins across the property. County staff was unhappy with the angle of their placement on the property. Kroger has adjusted the angle in order to satisfy staff concerns.

Another area of concern was identified in the northeast corner of the property where an existing building will remain. The existing building’s property owner was concerned about their view of the back of the Smith’s Marketplace store. County staff recommended adjusting the site lines and the landscaping to alleviate the problem. Kroger has made the recommended adjustments to their plans.

The site plan includes the extension of the Canyon Rim Trail through the south side of the property. Early versions of the plan did not recognize that the trail would be used for bicycles, joggers and many other types of uses. The early plan showed a meandering leisure path that was not conducive to the anticipated heavy recreational use of the trail.

The trail has now been adjusted to handle these types of heavy recreational uses that current users of the existing trail are already enjoying. Parking spaces on the south side of the parking lot will provide access to the trail.

Retaining walls will be placed above the trail in the area where the trail passes close to the Marketplace store. Xeriscaped water-efficient landscaping will be used above the retaining wall and is shown in a light brown color on the site plan.

Bret Wahlen, left, of Great Basin Engineering presented the Trinity Site / Site Plan to the Planning and Zoning Commission. New Los Alamos County Associate Planner Dan Osborn looks on at right. Photo by Greg Kendall/ladailypost.com

A large 5,000-square-foot outdoor patio with tables and seating is found on the south side of the Marketplace store. Kroger representative Bret Wahlen of Great Basin Engineering noted that a lot of work had gone into creating a unique outdoor café environment with views into the canyon. Wahlen added that some existing shrubs and trees will be removed from the canyon edge to maximize outstanding canyon views from the Smith’s patio area.

Wahlen described in detail how passenger vehicles would enter and exit the site using a new signalized intersection on Trinity Drive that would connect Trinity Place to the Mari Mac shopping center (also owned by Kroger.)

A second entrance is found west of the signalized intersection on Trinity Drive. A third entrance/exit is found on Knecht Street. Knecht will be slightly widened in order to improve traffic flow and access to the new shopping plaza, he said.

A water retention pond will be created in the southeast corner of the property in order to collect runoff from the buildings and parking lot.

Kroger noted that there would not be a fence around the pond. If the county determines that fencing is required for safety or other reasons, it will be up to the County to install the fencing, Wahlen told the commissioners.

Wahlen said  that no lease agreements have been signed for the two separate retail buildings that are part of the now approved plan, adding that talks had been held with multiple possible tenants including McDonald’s and a pet supply store, which was later revealed as Pet Pangaea currently in Central Park Square.  

McDonald’s previously expressed interest in the “Future Restaurant” space in the northwest corner of the lot, but no deal has been struck at this time.

Pet Pangaea has expressed interest in the “Future Retail” space on the southwest corner of the lot. Cyndi Wells described, in an earlier Los Alamos Daily Post story, her efforts to secure a retail location at Trinity Site that included a truck loading dock for her pet supply store.  

It is unknown whether Wells still has interest in relocating her store to the Trinity Site, but Smith's Vice President of Corporate Development Steve Sorensen indicated that Kroger is planning a future location for her store that includes a loading dock.

Smith's Steve Sorensen, left front, and Kroger's Don Barnett, right front, look on as the Planning and Zoning hearing proceeds.  Photo by Greg Kendall/ladailypost.com

During the hearing, Wahlen set an opening date of November 2014, but after the hearing, Sorensen admitted that making the November 2014 target would require an extremely aggressive schedule.

After the Planning and Zoning approval of the site plan, the Los Alamos Daily Post talked with Smith’s Sorensen.  

Sorensen indicated that Smith’s would allow Pet Pangaea to become a tenant of a “future retail” location in Trinity Place. Sorensen said that Pet Pangaea would not be considered “competitive retail” for the new Smith’s Marketplace. 

Sorensen did indicate the new Smith’s will carry low end pet supplies, but said that he felt Pet Pangaea’s product mix was sufficiently different from what Smith’s plans to carry.

Sorensen noted that lease rates for the development have not been determined as of yet. He said that more work was required to determine rent on the retail spaces.

“We still don’t know what it’s going to cost to build on this property. We still need to get bids on construction and do more ground testing,” Sorensen said.

It is clear that no serious negotiations to lease space at Trinity Place can begin until the costs to build on the property are more defined for Kroger.

Sorensen indicated that Kroger and Gubb & Ellis Albuquerque (the leasing agent for the property) plan to begin a serious marketing campaign in time for the annual International Council of Shopping Centers (ICSC) convention in Las Vegas, Nev., in May.

“We’ve gone before, but now we have solid drawings and architectural designs to show,” Sorensen said.

Currently, the project is in a due diligence phase. Kroger was given six months to complete the due diligence. Kroger has an option to request an extension of several months at the end of the six months.

The six months has almost passed and Sorensen said that Kroger would likely ask for the extension as ground studies are completed, land transfers and easements are worked out, N.M. 502 issues are resolved with the State of New Mexico Department of Transportation and the connection to Mari-Mac is figured out.

Sorensen indicated that Kroger was about to go "out to bid" on the construction of the project. He said that when all of the details were resolved, then Kroger management would look at the costs and make a decision on going forward with development.

When asked how committed Kroger is to complete the entire project including the “future” retail and restaurant spaces, Sorensen said, “I think when you look at the overall project, it’s a very expensive project. The more tenants we bring in that are paying rent, the more buildings, the more it offsets our costs and makes it a palatable deal. I couldn’t justify, as bad as I want to do this store, taking on the entire site and doing all the site work and building our store. 

"That’s why I brought Kroger in. Kroger had to be involved in that process, not because they have deeper pockets, it’s the same pockets, but because they have the capacity to do it and develop other buildings and to bring in other tenants and help with that process. I’m shooting myself in the foot [business wise] if I were to say I’m only building my store and the two minimum retail buildings. As soon as we can lease those other buildings out, we’ll build them. It is to Kroger’s benefit to completely fill the development as soon as possible."

Sorensen continued, “We own Mari-Mac Village and we will continue to own Mari-Mac. There is no interest or desire in selling. There are no plans [for the future of Mari-Mac.] It’s a Catch-22 for me because until I’ve got the new store deal done, how do I negotiate with you as a potential tenant for the old Smith’s building when I don’t even know when I can deliver it to you? “This [approved site plan] tonight, generates an element of excitement, but we’ve still got traffic issues and the other outstanding things. I’ve still got to get a store built and I’m anxious to move forward. Don [Barnett] is anxious to get those two buildings leased out and the other [future] pads leased. The one that he mentioned is McDonald’s but whether it’s a McDonald’s or a bank or something else to go on there, we’re anxious. All of that helps make this project feasible."

“[Commissioner Smith-Nelson, the lone vote against approving the site plan] questioned whether we were going to get other tenants and she talked about how businesses come up here and fail. How do you think that makes me feel about being here to do this project? It doesn’t help my confidence,” Sorensen said. “What we have done here in Los Alamos has far exceeded what has been done before. We are the anchor tenant. We are nearly completed with the architectural drawings for our building. We’ve done an ALTA survey of the property. We’ve had the environmental guy out on the site. The soil engineers have done boring and we’ve had them do other trenching so we can get a better idea of what is going on underground.

We’ve spent hours on that site. We’ve been out with Dick McIntyre (County parks manager.) I’ve been out on the entire canyon trail from one end of the mesa to the other in order to understand the vision of what Los Alamos wants to do there. We’ve been working on this deal with the retaining wall and we’ve worked hard to resolve the visual and line of sight issues.

“I’ve attended some of the public meetings where people are afraid that we will let Mari-Mac decay once we move to our new store. Why would we do that? Why would you have money in a ‘savings account’ and ignore it and put it somewhere place where you get no yield? We are a public business, we don’t do that. We have to answer to our shareholders.

“We are committed to the whole thing [Trinity Place and Mari-Mac] and we are excited about it. The better it turns out, the better for us. The [Marketplace] store is the catalyst; the store is what drives this whole deal for us.  If I thought we could do an adequate job by just re-modeling the store at Mari-Mac, that’s what we would do. It would be a lot cheaper and we own the property. But we feel going across the street to build a Marketplace offering hopefully that creates a synergy in Los Alamos that creates a shopping destination here and we can add other shops.

“When somebody in Los Alamos wants to go shopping for groceries, or get the hair done, get their bicycle fix or get their pets high end pet supplies … they’ll come here. There is no reason to drive off [the hill.] That’s our goal and that’s what we’re trying to create. It’s to capture those sales and keep them on the hill.

“I’ve probably spent close to $1 million figuring this site out. If this deal doesn’t work, I flush that, it’s all gone. Kroger doesn’t spend money like that. We are doing this with purpose and intent in order to get this deal done.”

From left, Michael Redondo and Laurence Warner were introduced as the newest members of the Los Alamos Planning and Zoning Commission. Photo by Greg Kendall/ladailypost.com

To view the Community Development Department Staff Report that Commissioners used during this hearing, click HERE.

To view the entire Planning and Zoning hearing on YouTube, click HERE.  (Length 1hr 28min – Unedited.) Or view the hearing with the embedded video below:

CSTsiteisloaded