EL PASO, Texas -- The Kemp Smith law office has drafted a letter to downtown El Paso property owners, who are located in a proposed historic district, accusing El Paso County of not being transparent with the public in their efforts to create the historic district.
The letter states, "the County, or some of its elected officials, have been intentionally misleading people about the hidden purposed behind the effort to create the historic district."
The letter, penned over the weekend, also claims there is a key reason the county is refusing to remove the planned multi-purpose performing arts center - also commonly known as the arena project - from the downtown historic footprint.
Once the properties are included in the National Register of Historic Places, anyone -- whether they live in El Paso or not, have any stake on the property or not -- can enter a claim for them to be named State Antiquities Landmark, the lawyers contend. Any demolitions to build the arena, the lawyers added, could then be hampered.
Commissioner Davit Stout fired back in a statement to ABC-7, accusing the attorneys of wanting to confuse property owners.
"It's disappointing such a well-regarded law firm would stoop to distributing inaccurate information about the County, which is trying to make it easier for Downtown property owners to access tax credits," Stout wrote. "They are permissive, so if property owners choose not to use these tax credits their property rights would not be affected by the District. It's a win-win, and if this law firm truly cared about Downtown property owners, they would be helping the County complete the El Paso Downtown Historic District application instead of confusing the public."
Stout then listed the outreach efforts the county has undertaken to inform property owners of the proposed historic district:
"We have had at least a dozen Commissioners Court meetings in which this subject was discussed, and where the opportunity for public comment was offered. A number of downtown property owners even took advantage of those opportunities to comment, as has the Downtown Management District, whose board is also comprised of downtown property owners. I and other proponents of the proposed Downtown Historic District have been quoted in dozens of news reports on every news outlet in the community. In addition, there were advertisements placed in local publications regarding the formal public meeting with the Texas Historical Commission on the proposal, as required by law. The process for this project has not concluded and recently, we sent letters to each individual property owner and have begun making phone calls, as well. We will continue the outreach until the District is approved, and once it is, we will work to help property owners access the tax credits, should they choose to do so."
He then questioned who was behind the attorneys' efforts. Osborn and Wolf maintain they are working pro bono and want to see a revitalized downtown include the MPC. Read their letter below: