EL PASO, Texas -- The El Paso City Council on Wednesday unanimously approved a deal with the Public Service Board for the transfer of 306 acres in northeast El Paso for the construction of a new fire and police academy.
The plot is located north of the North Hills subdivision and west of Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. The area being developed there is also known as "north El Paso."
The city will pay $1.3 million to the PSB for the land. According to the agreement between the two public entities, that's 25% of the parcel's value -- a transaction allowed when the PSB releases the public land it holds in trust to the city. The PSB acts also as El Paso Water, the city's main water utility.
Environmentalists endorsed the location, according to the document included on the council agenda. During the discussion Wednesday, council also unanimously agreed to work with the PSB to preserve another 1,200 acres west of Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard as public open space. The conservation easement would protect the area as a gateway to the Franklin Mountain State Park. Two popular hiking spots, the Lazy Cow and Roundhouse Trailheads, are in the area.
City Rep. Peter Svarzbein said there are "development pressures" in the area across from Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and now is the time to look at the area as a whole.
"At the end of the day, the best sure-fire way to preserve this land in perpetuity is with a conservation easement, even if it stays in the inventory of El Paso Water, even if the designation of it changes as a 'dedicated open space,' defining the uses of it and going through the conservation easement process is ultimately going to be what is going to prohibit -- and give the best chance to prohibit -- future development in this land for any future council, or mayor into the future," he said.
Voters approved the $79 million investment in a new public safety complex during a 2019 bond election. The plan calls for a fire academy/logistics center and new El Paso Fire Department headquarters, along with a police academy. City staff told council the complex could take up between 50 and 80 acres, leaving more than 200 acres as a buffer between it and the larger 1,200-acre parcel set for conservation. Council then directed staff to explore setting those 200 acres as permanent open space, too.
Design and construction of the facility is expected from 2022 to 2024, according to the city's presentation.