A group of homeowners in Los Alamos are voicing resistance to a developer’s project that could create new housing units on a plot near Shaw Street, a private road that homeowners fear could become overrun with traffic if new residences are established.
The crux of this ongoing debate centers on a building project spearheaded by developer Stephen Ruffino, who has applied through the county’s Planning and Development Department to split the plot into four parcels. In the future, the parcels could be used to create dwellings on a plot of land on Main Street in Los Alamos and use a portion of Shaw Street as an access road.
The problem with this, homeowners say, is that Shaw Street is a private road that is maintained by homeowners on the street and is often used for recreation by community members. Residents argue that if these new units are installed on Main Street, it will increase potential traffic hazards on the street that is outside the county’s jurisdiction.
Nearly a decade ago, the county decided to privatize the road and left it up to the homeowners on Shaw Street to maintain it. Since then, the Shaw Street Maintenance Association has maintained the street by organizing new paving, adding speed bumps and paying annual dues for road upkeep.
Seth Steiner, the president of the Shaw Street Maintenance Association, said the road is private and is only to be used by people who are paying dues for its maintenance. If additional units are added at the Main Street plot, Mr. Steiner said this would increase traffic on the small street, which residents fear could cause more accidents where the road bottlenecks.
“The road is used by residents all over town because it is quiet and safe — families ride on it, people run and bike,” Mr. Steiner told the News-Press. “A lot more traffic is going to be more dangerous, especially at the bottleneck, and this wasn’t accounted for when the planners made their decisions.”
Shaw Street, as it currently stands, narrows to one lane a few hundred feet before the intersection of Foxen Lane. If this project is approved, developers have proposed plans to widen a portion of the street near the entrance to the plot and shorten the bottleneck, but Mr. Steiner is skeptical of this measure. He accused the county of ignoring the traffic issues associated with the designated plot off of Shaw Street.
“The main issue for us is from the very beginning, going back 10 years, is that the county dropped the road in our laps,” Mr. Steiner said. “Financial responsibility was all ours, none in the county’s lap, and now the county is ignoring the fact that there is a bottleneck (on Shaw Street). The county is in the process of (approving) planning that would increase more risk of injury and accident because of the bottleneck that the county is trying to ignore that won’t go away.”
The issue with access to Shaw Street is tricky and has been an ongoing debate since Mr. Ruffino initially settled on the plot in 2017.
Initially, Mr. Ruffino approached the SSMA, asking to join the association to gain access to the street, but the cohort denied the request. But about a year later, Mr. Ruffino returned to the SSMA with a 2004 resolution from the Board of Supervisors that said anyone who acquired the plot could use Shaw Street for access.
Now, Mr. Ruffino’s request to split the lot into four parcels will be reviewed by the zoning administrator in the next two or three months, according to Supervising Planner Holly Owen.
In an emailed response to the News-Press, Ms. Owen emphasized that there are currently no construction plans under review for this plot. At this time, the county is only reviewing Mr. Ruffino’s request to split up the plot, and any proposal would go through an extensive review process in the county.
In response to community concerns, Ms. Owen said the Planning and Development Department, the Public Works Department, the Fire Department and Caltrans have worked to address the concerns “to the extent that (they) can.” This included holding a community meeting with the district supervisor’s office back in January.
“We do understand that the new lots may eventually allow a new density for this neighborhood and, that with new density comes more traffic,” Ms. Owen said via email. “It is zoned for residential housing.”
She added that the property is in the Two Family Residential Zoning district, so each lot could hold a duplex if proposed. According to Ms. Owens, “Accessory Dwelling Unit (ADU) regulations would, if proposed, allow an additional two units per lot, which is current state law.”
Mr. Ruffino did not return a News-Press request for comment to discuss community concerns.