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Risk Assessments Of Downtown Buildings To Begin Soon

When the historic 130-year-old Hardin building burned down on last month in Downtown El Paso, a second fire was lit under City leaders hoping to change how the City operates.

On Tuesday, El Paso Fire Chief Otto Drozd came before City Council to discuss a Downtown fire risk assessment.

Over a 30-day period the Fire Department will have six teams made up of three people each visit and assess 331 parcels, or roughly 600 buildings. The goal is to make sure that more historic buildings don’t burn.

Each property will be ranked as a risk level one through four – one showing a need for immediate corrective action and four meaning that the building meets compliance.

Drozd said some buildings that have already been viewed appeared to have issues, showing the council pictures of a building with a slew of boxes stacked on front of the only staircase that allowed for exiting a building.

“These buildings were not meant to be storage warehouses, and right now our downtown is being used as a storage warehouse district,” said Drozd.

City Rep. Cortney Niland said it was a tragedy that the Hardin building burned.

“The biggest tragedy, to me though, is that this is a public safety issue,” said Niland.

The issue with the Hardin building, according to City officials, was that it didn’t fall under the vacant building ordinance because a minimum of 40 percent of the building was occupied by businesses on the ground floor, despite the two upper floors being boarded up.

A proposal was made on Tuesday that the vacant building ordinance would be changed that a building must have at least 60 percent of the space occupied or the owner would have to register the building as “vacant.” The proposal would also expand the ordinance to the rest of the city. Currently the ordinance has only been implemented in certain areas.

The proposal would also change the time limits a building would be “vacant” before it is required to be registered. The original ordinance asked for a three year period, while a one year period is asked for in the new proposal.

As it stands now, the City is tied up with pursuing legal action against those who already haven’t registered buildings. According to Drozd, 20 commercial buildings, and 150 residential buildings should be registered. Currently only 47 of those buildings are registered.

To register a vacant building, click on the City’s Website here.

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