Texas Historical Commission board OKs Downtown Historic District proposal, including Duranguito

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EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) — El Paso County’s application for a large historic district in Downtown was approved by a branch of the state’s leading historical agency despite a legal action filed on Friday.

A lawsuit was filed against the THC over the application by some property owners on Friday to stop the application process, but the meeting continued.

The state board received 60 letters of rejection to the application out of 155 property owners within the district, according to officials. Most came in on Friday.

The board received letters of support from two city reps, El Paso County Judge Ricardo Samaniego and former Sen. Jose Rodriguez, the city’s Historic Landmark Commission letter.

Now, the proposal will be prepared for presentation to the National Park Service to be added to the National Register of Historic Places.

On Saturday, the Texas Historical Commission’s review board discussed El Paso County’s proposed Downtown Historic District, which would recognize nearly 300 properties that both stand alone and contribute as historical treasures.

The historic district proposal includes the Duranguito neighborhood, recognizing 13 properties with historical significance. It’s the same site where the city plans on building a multipurpose performing arts and entertainment center.

The center is one of three signature projects proposed from the 2012 Quality of Life bond initiative.

Austin-based Hardy-Heck-Moore & Associates began the survey of Downtown in 2017 and identified more than 1,000 properties that could be part of a National Register of Historic Places district.

Designations are primarily honorary and generally do not place restrictions on property owners. A designation typically frees up historic tax credits and federal dollars to renovate properties.

Earlier this week, Mayor Oscar Leeser signaled he would not get involved in the application. Former Mayor Dee Margo sent a letter after Leeser defeated him in a runoff of the Nov. 3 election, claiming that the city had not been notified with enough time and that the buildings in the Duranguito neighborhood were damaged.

Several of the buildings were damaged in 2017 when crews partially poked holes into the properties. The city had made agreements with those owners requiring demolition to finalize sales of those properties.

El Pasoans debate the application

Billionaire Paul Foster called the commission, claiming property owners were not given adequate notice of the application. He also claimed a burden would be placed on the properties because of local regulations. His comments were echoed by El Paso Chamber CEO David Jerome and developers Miguel Fernandez and Adam Frank, who own properties in Downtown.

“It feels as if this process has been conducted under a shroud of secrecy and, in my opinion, the vast majority of property owners will object if presented with the facts and enough time to adequately consider the consequences,” he said.

Timothy Bowman, a historian member of the review board, said notification procedures of the application were completed.

And, on Monday, members of the Historic Landmark Commission said local regulations requiring property owners with recognized properties to maintain the buildings have not been enforced. When the regulation was created, it was part of an error, they said.

Chair Donald Sevigny said the HLC has presented changes to the City Council over the regulations, but they have not been acted on. He said the council would need to vote to change the regulation.

El Paso County Commissioner David Stout of Precinct 2 said the county waited on the city to change its regulations for two years. The county did not receive opposition to the application after various meetings until this week, he added.

“We decided to take this step because it’s a very important project,” he said. “A testament to that is it has taken and we have barriers, we didn’t give up.”

District 6 city Rep. Claudia Rodriguez was brief in her statement to the board, but said she supported the application as is.

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