Photo courtesy El Paso County
Officials with the County of El Paso are inviting property owners within the proposed boundaries of the National Historic District to join a virtual town hall on Saturday, February 27th, at 10:00am.
“The El Paso County Economic Development Department administers programs which seek to enhance the business operating climate and promote heritage tourism throughout El Paso County,” county officials shared. “These efforts serve to enhance the quality of life for all residents.”
The goal of the meeting is to inform property owners of the overall process in establishing the national historic district and how this benefits property owners and the community at large.
To join the meeting, any member of the public can go to the County website at 10:00am on Saturday.
If you are not taken directly to the link, please copy and paste the downtown.epcounty.com into the browser. Users will automatically be directed to the virtual meeting.
Also released Wednesday was a letter from El Paso County Judge Ricardo Samaniego, on behalf of the El Paso County Commissioners Court, in response to the Kemp Smith letter authored late last week.
The letter is included below:
Dear Mr. Wolf and Mr. Osborn,
The Commissioners Court is in receipt of your letter addressed to Downtown property owners dated February 17, 2021 regarding the County’s Downtown Historic District application. In your letter you either imply or directly accuse members of Commissioners Court and County staff of a lack of transparency, intentionally misleading the public, dishonesty or ignorance.
Please allow me to respond on behalf of the Commissioners Court. It is an understatement to say that we are disappointed with the tone and content of your letter. The County has always considered Kemp Smith to be a valued community partner with high ethical standards. As you are aware, the County has turned to your firm for legal advice and counsel with regard to other matters. Because of our long relationship, it is surprising to the Commissioners Court that you would raise these allegations in a letter to the public without addressing them with the Commissioners Court first. Rather than meet with anyone on Commissioners Court or offer your opinion at any of the numerous Commissioners Court meetings when this matter was posted, you both decided to take the unprecedented and disingenuous step to purchase a full page ad in a local news publication with the copy of the letter submitted to Downtown private owners.
From the beginning, a little over five years ago, before the City identified the site for the multi -purpose center (MPC), the County announced its intention to proceed with a historic survey to assist in the preservation of our cherished heritage. If you view the videos of the many public meetings where this item has been discussed, you will note that members of the Commissioners Court did not want to take a position on the MPC. In fact, the Commissioners Court made the decision to move forward with the Downtown historic district nomination to the National Register for Historic Places (NRHP) BEFORE the City identified the site for the MPC.
Throughout that time the County Commissioners Court has worked to ensure that stakeholders in the project were involved. Several public meetings were held to discuss the planned project and public comment was received and considered by the Commissioners Court. At the direction of Commissioners Court, County staff had several discussions and meetings with the City throughout the process to seek clarification and share concerns regarding City Ordinance 20.20.080. In a show of good faith and because of the City’s representation that amendments would be considered and made to the City Ordinance, the County abated the historic nomination process to allow the City to resolve these issues. Last week, the City, publically announced that private property owners would be required to obtain a certificate of appropriateness ONLY IF their property was in a designated historic (H-overlay) property district. All other private property owners not in the City’s own designated historic (H-overlay) property district would not be affected. In your letter dated February 17, 2021, one day after the City Council meeting, you fail to state or reference the City’s acknowledgment that revisions to its ordinance were necessary and that the ordinance is only applicable in limited circumstances.
Throughout the County’s interactions and discussions with the City the issue of a potential State Antiquities Landmark designation (SAL) has not been raised as a basis to reject the historic district. In addition, it was only in September 2020 did the City, for the first and only time, request that the County carve out the MPC footprint. Unfortunately, at that time the period for feedback and revisions had passed
and the County continued with the nomination package as is to the Texas Historical Commission.
Reasonable minds may differ on the wisdom of a historic district but it is not reasonable to ascribe malicious intent to public servants who are trying to act in the best interest of the County. Your assertions in your letter were, to the say the least, disappointing especially given the cordial and long-standing relationship we have had with you and the Firm you represent. Please know that you and/or your pro bono
clients are always welcome at our Commissioners Court meetings to express your concerns directly to County officials, County staff, and the public.
This Saturday, February 27th you and your clients will have the opportunity to do so as we have posted a public meeting to provide a presentation on the County’s Downtown historic nomination application and to solicit public comment and feedback. The Commissioners Court encourages you to attend the meeting with your clients so that you may publicly share your views for the County’s consideration. In order to ensure proper access for all, the Commissioners Court Courtroom will be open to accommodate you, your clients, and members of the public who wish to attend in person. In addition, the County has arranged for remote access and public comment. Details will be posted on the agenda notice.
As I’ve consistently reiterated, the County’s purpose in supporting and moving forward with the nomination of the Downtown historic district to the National Register for Historic Places is to recognize and celebrate the historical and cultural significance of these areas. The opportunity to showcase this special area of El Paso for heritage tourism would ensure economic prosperity and historic preservation.
Significantly, ALL private property owners, not just those presumably who you represent, will have the opportunity to take advantage of historic tax credits IF they choose to for their property. We are always open to receiving any additional information you may have and encourage you to reach out directly to address.
Ricardo A. Samaniego
El Paso County Judge