EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) – Segundo Barrio, a neighborhood in south El Paso is well on its way to becoming a historic district, but a decision made by El Paso County Commissioners this week is upsetting residents.
Walk down the streets of Segundo Barrio and most residents would agree Sacred Heart Church is part of the neighborhood, but the majority of county commissioners are painting a different picture.
On Monday, commissioners were tasked with deciding where Segundo Barrio’s boundaries will be, as part of its application to give the neighborhood a federal historic designation.
The options for the boundaries include a plan from HHM & Associates, a historic preservation consulting firm out of Austin. Another recommendation came from public comment, which came together with local experts.
In a virtual commissioners court meeting, County Judge Ricardo Samaniego and Commissioner David Stout voted for the plan by local experts, which covers a larger area.
Vince Perez, Carl Robinson and Carlos Leon – the majority – voting on the plan from the firm in Austin, that excludes Sacred Heart Church and more than 200 other buildings in Segundo Barrio, instead placing them in the Downtown area instead.
Sacred Heart Priest Father Rafael Garcia said he thinks the vote is questionable.
“I think it’s another way of violating people’s history and culture,” he said.
Garcia said he thinks the vote was not accidental, and could be linked to developers wanting to move people out of the neighborhood.
“I have no doubt that this is not just a casual separation,” Garcia said. “I think there is a plan to bring Downtown close to the (international) bridges. I don’t know who it will attract. I think people like to come to see old neighborhoods, if they turn this into a commercial area, the residents are going to lose out.”
Garcia is not alone.
A petition is making its way around social media, gathering more than 1000 signatures. The petition is asking to recall the vote to divide Segundo Barrio.
Its organizer, Crysti Couture was born and raised in the Barrio. She said she feels the three commissioners who voted for the firm’s plan do not understand the neighborhood.
“I would encourage them to listen to the people who live here, the people who signed this petition,” she said.
Couture invites commissioners to get informed and educated on something residents seem to know here without a doubt – Sacred Heart Church is in Segundo Barrio.
KTSM did reach out to all commissioners about the vote and only one responded. This is the statement received by David Stout:
“As the principal proponent of this project from the beginning, I never envisioned that half of Segundo Barrio would be cut out of a federal historic designation application for that neighborhood. Everybody knows that Sacred Heart Church is not only one of the most important historic buildings in the neighborhood, but it really is el corazon del Segundo Barrio. It saddens me that it, and close to 200 other important properties like it, that define the cultural and historic essence of Segundo Barrio, will not be considered as part of a district recognized by the National Register for Historic Places, thus diminishing the powerful historic significance of one of the earliest and most important neighborhoods in our County. We should aim to have as many of Segundo Barrio’s historic buildings as possible included in the district that will carry the neighborhood’s name and maintain its integrity by drawing the district’s lines as closely as we can along the boundaries that have defined it for more than 100 years. “