Dear Media and Friends,
Here is the latest news about the County’s effort to establish a National Register historic district in downtown El Paso that would confer generous federal and state tax credits on up to 174 properties.
Yesterday the County Judge wrote the attached letter to Mayor Leeser and our City Representatives, thanking the Mayor for placing an item on Tuesday’s agenda for discussion and action on ordinance 20.20.080(A) and urging the City to amend the ordinance in order to “remove concerns for Downtown property owners.”
As you know, several attorneys from the local law firm Kemp Smith LLC, led by attorney Mark Osborn, have been actively contacting downtown property owners, telling them that they will be regulated by the City ordinance if the proposed National Register historic district is established in downtown El Paso, and inviting them to submit declarations to the Texas Historical Commission objecting to the district.
Incredibly, Osborn told Aaron Montes of KTSM 9 News with a straight face that he is conducting his effort free of charge: “I care about El Paso, I care about Downtown, I do a decent amount of pro-bono work.” Uhmmm, okay.
Today the City posted the agenda for Tuesday, February 16 and item 35 is titled “Discussion and action on the City’s Historic Designation Process.” At issue is an ordinance that has been in the City Code for more than a decade, purporting to regulate owners of National Register properties. The ordinance has never once been enforced and City staff have announced repeatedly that it will never be enforced.
The fact is that National Register properties are not supposed to be subject to any regulations. El Paso is the only city in Texas that has such an ordinance on the books, and no one seems to know why it is even there:
20.20.080 – Alterations and changes to landmarks and H-overlay properties.
A. No person or entity shall construct, reconstruct, alter, change, remove, demolish or fail to maintain, any of the following, unless a certificate of appropriateness or a certificate of demolition has been approved by the HLC or approval granted through administrative review:
1. Any permanent feature on a property listed as a Texas Antiquities Landmark or on the National Register of Historic Places;
2. Any building, object, site, landscape architectural feature, or group of such designated with an H-overlay or as a historic landmark as defined by this chapter and designate by the city council.
All the City Council needs to do is delete the eight words in red above in order to solve this problem and reassure downtown property owners that the new district is a win for everyone.
Of course, Osborn could have focused on this basic task rather than engaging several of his colleagues in a strategic effort to undermine the County’s economic plan for downtown.
WHAT WILL MAYOR LEESER DO?
Referring to the ordinance in question, Mayor Leeser told the public at his presser on Monday that he and the County Judge “are working together to bring that item to council.” Clearly, the County is hoping that he will take action to delete the eight words in question.
The agenda item, however, is vaguely worded and one wonders why it does not specifically aim to amend 20.20.080(1) in concise and clear language.
We expect that the Mayor or a City Council rep will put forth a motion to delete the eight words above and that City Attorney Nieman will not interfere. Let us hope that there will not be a repeat of August 21, 2018 (item 34.1), when the City Council mysteriously voted 7-1 to leave the rogue ordinance on the books.
Rep. Svarzbein strongly suggested to David Crowder of El Paso Inc that he would support amending the ordinance as needed. If he and the Mayor stay true to their word, then there should be enough votes to fix this troublesome problem once and for all.
Have a great day!
Max Grossman, PhD
Board of Directors, Preservation Texas
Vice-Chair, The Trost Society
Co-Chair, Restore Sacred Heart Church