Developer aims to add driveway access to Shaw Street, currently a quiet one-lane private drive. | Credit: Sean Cummings

A Los Alamos housing development that ran into roadblocks three years ago has found a way to come back. Though still in its earliest phases, the project could result in six to 11 new housing units — to the chagrin of nearby residents.

The lot in question occupies 1.5 acres between Main Street and Shaw Street, near the eastern terminus of each. Developer Stephen Ruffino has applied to subdivide the lot into four parcels. One contains an existing home; the remaining three are zoned for duplexes for a total of at least six potential new units.

An aerial view of Los Alamos | Credit: Google Maps

Seth Steiner, a Shaw Street resident, says he and others worry about the development’s impact on the rural aesthetic of Los Alamos, a small North County town known for its wine tasting, antique stores, and popular eateries. He’s not alone; 15 of his neighbors sent letters to the developer expressing concern. Among their issues with the project is the proposed driveway access onto Shaw. The quiet, private road, popular with walkers, joggers, and cyclists young and old, bottlenecks to one lane for about 250 feet at its eastern end. While Ruffino’s proposal would widen most of that, the easternmost 100 feet aren’t part of his project and would remain narrow.

Given these factors, Steiner worries that if Shaw becomes the main access point, “Traffic would increase exponentially, and the potential incidents of an accident would grow correspondingly higher … It would end the peaceful enjoyment of this section of road.” Widening Shaw’s bottleneck, he fears, would attract even more traffic.

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Steiner has called for a traffic study, which wouldn’t happen until Ruffino submits an official development proposal. Even then, Public Works estimates impacts will fall below the 50 vehicle trips per peak traffic hour required to merit a study. Those estimates, however, only account for traffic from the three potential duplexes. A project site map from June indicates the lot could, as Steiner pointed out, also accommodate five accessory dwelling units, or ADUs.

Concerns like Steiner’s led the Shaw Street Maintenance Association (SSMA) to reject Ruffino’s request to accept new homes as members when the developer tried to start the process three years ago. Since then, Ruffino has unearthed a 2004 resolution by the County Board of Supervisors enabling him to bypass the street association, and its objections, and use Shaw as the main access point. Steiner suggests the developer favors a Shaw access point because its design maximizes profits — according, he says, to a 2017 meeting between the association and Juan Beltranena, a former architect on the project. Ruffino declined to comment on his reasons for preferring Shaw.

Supervising Planner Holly Owen says a public hearing for the project will occur once review of the subdivision request has finished, adding that “There is conversation about a community meeting to be held sometime in January with the assistance of the 3rd District Supervisor’s office.” Ruffino says he would look forward to such a meeting and would gladly answer all questions at that time.

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