Ryti: Public Engagement For Downtown Plans

By RANDALL RYTI
County Council Vice Chair

At our July 7, 2020 Council Work Session we had a presentation from Dekker, Perich, Sabatini on the Downtown Master Plans and Development Code Update. I wanted to highlight a couple of items for our residents.

First, Council, staff, and the consultants all had substantial discussion regarding the public engagement process. Clearly, under COVID-19 restrictions some of the usual forms of public involvement, such as open houses and community meetings are not possible. We want to make sure that everyone has the opportunity and comment on the community values and goals for these plans as well as the resulting vision for our downtowns.

Currently, the main method planned to obtain public input for the downtown master plans would be online using a virtual meeting platform, social media, and a website. For the online component, it was suggested that could have a survey using the OpenGov portal. Other, more limited in-person interactions may be possible between now and December 2020. Public engagement for development code updates is January to September 2021.

Not all County residents have access to online information. So other methods should be employed. Some of the ideas included having a display at the Municipal Building or public libraries with project information and contact information (phone, email, website) for comments or having a booth showing plan options with limited occupancy consistent with health guidelines.

If you have ideas on methods to get public engagement both using online tools and other methods consistent with current health orders we would like to hear them. Any ideas that citizens may have can be directed to Ryan Foster, Los Alamos County Principal Planner at ryan.foster@lacnm.us.

Second, among the items to highlight is the upcoming schedule for these efforts. In the coming months there will be a variety of options for the community to provide input on the plan, including virtual workshops and other means to gain public input.  With the impact of COVID-19 the format of these meetings are still being determined, but the public will be informed of the schedule and methods of how residents can participate within the next month.  There will also be a project website to be unveiled within the next two weeks that will provide on-going updates on the process as well as means for the public to provide real-time input on goals and strategies along the way.

Third, I want to highlight another related effort specifically for the White Rock Downtown that Paul Andrus, Community Development Director, mentioned at the Council meeting. Los Alamos MainStreet has started exploring a metropolitan redevelopment area (MRA) for White Rock. The MRA could be a potential redevelopment tool and expect to hear more about this effort in the coming months.

Fourth, I wanted to share some of my initial thoughts on the downtown planning efforts and development code updates. We have seen some turnover in our local business community in recent months. It is important that we consider what we would like our downtowns to look like in the coming decades. As we know, our communities change slowly over time and I would prefer that we take our time and invest in quality as suggested by Mr. Dale Dekker, DPS co-founder and project lead team designer. For values, I want to make sure that support our local business environment and maintain our open spaces as well as connections to outdoor recreation opportunities. Given these values, I would prefer to redevelop versus develop open space.

Council also made some policy requests to the design team. These included zoning to limit office space on ground floors. The objective would be to require retail spaces on the ground floor in mixed-use developments. Council also expressed interest in inclusionary zoning, which means that new developments have some component of affordable housing. Given that new construction has a long life span it was also important to address green building requirements.

Councilor Sheehey reminded everyone that revisions Chapter 16 development code was included in the project scope. He cited that regulations for accessory apartments were part of Chapter 16 and some neighborhoods were not well suited for such arrangements given the limited amount of on-street parking.

Lastly, I want to encourage everyone to do what they can to help during these difficult times. Wear a mask and stay at home as much as possible, but also stay connected and look out for our neighbors. We can only succeed by working together.

I would like to hear your thoughts on this topic or any other County initiative. You can reach me at randall.ryti@lacnm.us.

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