History of the Comprehensive Plan
Photo by Leslie Bucklin

History of Planning in Los Alamos County

The following summary describes Los Alamos County's long-range planning for the physical development of the community since the County was formed in 1949. Each plan has helped to influence the community's growth.

  • 1957 Long-Range Plan
  • The United States Atomic Energy Commission prepared the Long Range Land Use Plan for Los Alamos, New Mexico. This plan established major uses within the County, including the northern, western and eastern areas, and the community center area. At that time, the federal government still owned land in Los Alamos. The plan established public facilities, including the airport, golf course, stables and fairgrounds. One of the plan recommendations that was not acted upon was the removal of the Sundt and Denver Steel houses that were built for Manhattan Project staff and were considered temporary housing.
  • 1963 Comprehensive Plan
  • Well-known planner/architect Leo A. Daly prepared the first comprehensive plan for Los Alamos County following the Los Alamos Community Transfer Law signed into law by President Kennedy in 1962, which authorized transfer of federal land in the community of Los Alamos to private ownership and local control. This plan recommended expanding the community center and adding housing, along with procurement of additional federal lands for future needs. The transportation element established a hierarchy of roads. The plan also recognized the potential for Los Alamos to be a center for tourist attractions, including the Pioneer Center, Pueblo Indian culture sites, and Bandelier National Monument.
  • 1976 Comprehensive Plan
  • Los Alamos County staff prepared this plan as an update to the Daly plan, establishing goals and policies to guide plan recommendations. It focused on commercial and educational development, transit service, and designating sites for public schools and a college or university. It recognized that housing was a major problem and specifically recommended building low- and moderate-income housing.
  • 1984 Comprehensive Plan (not adopted)
  • County staff initiated a comprehensive plan to revise the 1976 plan, including the addition of a set of goals organized by land use, transportation, housing, environment, economy, parks and recreation, utilities, civic center, County services and facilities, and capital improvements.
  • 1987 Comprehensive Plan (adopted)
  • Architectural Research Consultants, Incorporated developed a detailed plan that included goals and policies. Elements of the plan were land use/housing, commerce and industry, public facilities and transportation. This plan remained the last adopted County comprehensive plan until adoption of the current Plan in 2016. It also included area master plans for the White Rock Civic Center District, Western Perimeter Area and Rendija Canyon. The plan advocated establishing design standards, a quantitatively rigorous approach to establishing new residential areas, and preservation of Manhattan Project-era historic sites. It recommended multimodal transportation systems and examined various loop roads.

    The County has realized many policy recommendations of the 1987 plan, including: broadening the County's regional shopping center function (particularly for Smith's Marketplace), relocating the Bradbury Museum to downtown, developing the Western Perimeter area, exploring development of the Pueblo Canyon shelf area, and redeveloping portions of Civic Center for higher densities. The plan also recommended that the U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and LANL master planning transfer various properties to private ownership, increasing the supply of low- and moderate-income housing, and developing an integrated land development code. The County did not act on a recommendation to develop Rendija Canyon.
  • 2004 Los Alamos County Comprehensive Plan (not adopted)
  • Facilitator Carl Moore led this planning project to address community vision, land use and community character. Implementation recommendations included revisions to the Land Development Code, and development of master plans for downtown White Rock and Los Alamos Medical Center, a historic preservation plan, recreational trail plan, and transportation plan. The effort relied upon extensive citizen participation, and the visioning work served as the basis for the 2005 vision statement and policy plan.
  • 2005 Los Alamos County Vision Statement and Policy Plan (adopted)
  • This plan established a 14-theme policy framework that served as a thematic foundation for the County goals that County Council adopted in the Los Alamos County Strategic Leadership Plan 2016 Update. Thematic categories included: engage citizenry, diversify the economy, update infrastructure, expand education, diversify housing, enhance youth activities, preserve our past, improve recreation, protect the environment, provide health care, work together, improve mobility, revitalize downtown, and act regionally.

    From 2005 to 2015, the County developed individual elements and master plans, but did not attempt to develop a comprehensive plan until the current effort, which began in 2015. These adopted documents included the Historic Preservation Plan Element (2008), Los Alamos Downtown Element (2009), Economic Vitality Strategic Plan (2010), and White Rock Center Element (2012). Other adopted plans relevant to the comprehensive plan include the Affordable Housing Plan (2010), Creative District Plan (2012), Open Space Management Plan (2015), and Transit Study (2015). Since the County did not incorporate these documents into a unified plan and some were dated, one of the tasks of the 2016 Comprehensive Plan was to evaluate and update these potential plan components as needed and integrate them into the new comprehensive plan format as appropriate.
  • 2016 Comprehensive Plan
  • County Council gave direction in 2015 to create a new comprehensive plan as a high-level policy document to guide future development of the County. In February 2016, the Council adopted the 2016 Strategic Leadership Plan, providing more specific and focused goals, including: maximizing opportunities related to the Manhattan Project National Historical Park; maximizing use of County-owned land; improving the quality of existing housing combined with developing appropriate infill housing; supporting environmental stewardship and enhancing recreational opportunities; and pursuing land transfers.

Sources: Los Alamos Comprehensive Plan 1987, which included ARC's review of information on plans developed prior to 1986; ARC's review of plans developed since 1987

Tamara Baer, RLA, ASLA
Los Alamos County
Community Development Department