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Some Worry Board Changes Could Favor Developers Over Open Space

El Paso City Council is considering tinkering with a board it, itself, created.

The Open Space Advisory board is comprised of nine members appointed by the mayor and city reps.

According to the city’s website, the committee provides recommendations to the city council in efforts to preserve and acquire open space.

“I think the Open Space committee has done a fabulous job,” District 1 City Rep. Ann Moran Lilly said at Tuesday’s city council meeting.

Though Lilly feels the board’s mission is a good one, she and District 8 City Rep. Cortney Niland said they believe the board’s meetings and business can be redundant.

Niland said board members often call in city staff from different departments to answer questions, tying up resources.

So Niland and Lilly have proposed six changes to the Open Space board.

They include getting rid of the board’s ability to review certain zoning cases, since the board does not have the power to deny development applications. Another proposal would require the board to receive approval from the City Plan Commission before making recommendations about city code to the full city council.

A third change would put a limit on the number of city staff the board would be able to summon to its meetings.

“We can make sure that we are working in a collaborative manner, and that we are moving forward and not wasting staff’s time, not wasting staff’s expense,” Niland said.

Lilly added she doesn’t want anyone to think she is giving permission to developers to do as they please without oversight from the board.

But some worry that is exactly what is happening.

Members of the public told city council they feel the proposed changes can only benefit developers.

“(Developers) want fewer requirements placed on them,” said Merlyn Hyman. “They don’t want to be told what to do.”

Judy Ackerman, a local environmentalist and political activist said, “It’s critical that citizens have a voice, not just the people with money.”

District 3 City Rep. Emma Acosta asked city staff to provide figures as to how many city staff have been called before the Open Space board, and the cost.

Council voted Tuesday to allow city staff to begin the process of formally drafting the changes to the board, with a final vote to come at a later date.

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