UNM-LA Addresses Concerns With Housing Plan

Residents listen to a proposal on UNM-LA student housing facility. Photo by Bonnie J. Gordon/ladailypost.com
Los Alamos Daily Post

More than 50 members of the community attended a public meeting Monday night on the UNM-LA campus to discuss the rezoning and redevelopment of the University of New Mexico-Los Alamos (UNM-LA) student housing on 9th Street between Myrtle and Iris.

UNM-LA Executive Director Cedric Page explains the plan to build an apartment complex along with student housing. Photo by Bonnie J. Gordon/ladailypost.com

UNM-LA is seeking to rezone the 1.88 acre parcel in the downtown Los Alamos area in order to optimize land use and provide appropriate housing for its students and the community. Plans are to redevelop the current configuration of 64 studio units into a mix of student housing and housing open to the general public for rent. The proposal goes before the County Planning and Zoning Commission at 5:30 p.m., Wednesday in Council Chambers. The County Council must approve final plans.

Rezoning is required because current zoning allows apartment complexes to house only 45 residents and the UNM-LA project would seek to house 85. UNM-LA’s 64-unit complex was grandfathered into the zoning requirements. UNM-LA also is seeking a variance to the height requirement of 35 feet to 50 feet for the northern end of the building.

The P&Z hearing is a quasi-judicial process, so only those who live within 300 feet of the site will be allowed to comment at that meeting, UNM-LA Executive Director Cedric Page said. This meeting, the third and largest UNM-LA has had with local residents, was held for the purpose of gathering comments and ideas from the community at this preliminary stage of the redevelopment process.

Renovating the existing facility, built in 1949 as Los Alamos National Laboratory housing, would be too expensive, Page said. The college is hoping to make the project affordable by combining 21 units of student housing with 59 units designed for public occupancy.

The Denver office of Page Southerland Page, Inc., a 400-plus person multidisciplinary architectural/engineering firm with offices in the U.S. and abroad, would build and manage the complex. The company is committed to holding the complex for 15 years, company representative Charles Schmidt told the group.

Schmidt participated in Monday’s meeting via phone link and gave a slide presentation addressing community concerns voiced at previous meetings:

  • Page Southerland Page, Inc., has reduced the height of three-quarters of the building to 35 feet. One quarter would remain at 50 feet.
  • The company will go with current zoning setbacks rather than seek a variance.
  • The parking lot will be screened from the street by the building. There will be only one entrance, on Iris Street.
  • The building has been reconfigured so that entrances and windows face the street.
  • The proximity of other structures to the building has been reduced. There is now 100 feet of space from existing dwellings.

During the question and answer period, a number of neighborhood residents expressed concern that their neighborhood is being changed from a residential area to a more urban area. Other concerns included how storm water runoff from the site would be managed and whether the design would fit into the neighborhood. Several residents said UNM-LA had allowed their property to become rundown, and therefore had not been a good neighbor.

Three landlords who own similar properties in the neighborhood expressed concern that newer housing would compete with their properties.

A number of students voiced concern that they would not be able to afford rents in the new facility. Page promised the students that the college is committed to making the student units affordable.