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Property Owners React To Proposed Changes To Vacant Building Ordinance

After a historic building burned to the ground last month, some El Paso City officials have been talking tough about Downtown buildings.

The City plans to inspect every single Downtown building in the next 30 days, and on top of the thorough inspections, the City is considering a tougher law on vacant buildings.

El Paso Fire Chief Otto Drozd has suggested implementing a tougher stance on vacant buildings. His proposal: If property owners don’t want the City to consider their buildings vacant then they must occupy 60 percent of their buildings instead of 40 percent.

“Our Downtown right now is a huge storage warehouse district,” Drozd told City Council on Tuesday. Billy Abraham, who owns 20 buildings Downtown doesn’t see that as a negative thing. “Storage isn’t a bad word. Buildings are built to store things. And the fact that there is a high vacancy rate in Downtown El Paso isn’t attributable to the fact that there isn’t a desire from property owners to improve their property but it’s an economic issue.”

Some of the 20 buildings Abraham owns are among the most historically significant structures in the area. Many of them are not developed. Abraham said the City’s proposed vacancy requirements, in his opinion, may be a bit much.

“Anytime there’s a catastrophic event that we and El Pasoans endured last week, I guess it’s human nature for there to be a tendency to have a knee jerk reaction,” Abraham said.

City Rep. Steve Orega had a strong reaction to the fire that destroyed the Hardin building.

“This is what happens when we have property owners that don’t take care of and care for their buildings and it’s infuriating,” Ortega said while the fire destroyed the historic building.

Abraham disputes the notion that owners don’t want to be good stewards of their buildings.

“It’s a sign of the times,” Abraham said. “It’s not an architectural issue, it’s an economic issue.”

“Automatically saying, ‘alright, we need to do a sweep, we’re going to slap a fine on them, we’re going to close this door, we’re going to do that,’ that’s not how you create a friendly environment to do business in your community,” said Cindy Ramos-Davidson, CEO of the El Paso Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.

The City wants to encourage business, not stifle it. They’re talking to business and property owners and the public about these proposed changes. They also did that two years ago when they initially implemented the vacant building ordinance.

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