City commits to keeping Northwest Master Plan, former PSB member says it's still in jeopardy

City commits to keeping Northwest Master Plan

EL PASO, Texas - The El Paso City Council on Tuesday unanimously reaffirmed its commitment to the Northwest Master Plan to quell concerns the City would reverse an agreement with petitioners.

"I am 100% committed to the agreement that was made and I do not plan to change that," said Mayor Oscar Leeser.

But despite the promise by City Council, former Public Service Board member, Richard Bonart said the Northwest Master Plan could still be in jeopardy if the City sells the land by sections rather than in one big parcel.

Activists who helped draft the plan were concerned City Council would stray from it after City Representatives two weeks ago decided to identify smaller parcels of land in the Northwest Master Plan to sell to developers.

Two years ago, petitioners who opposed the new Transmountain highway agreed to negotiate development terms for the 1,600 acres of City-owned land, in exchange for not taking to the voters their referendum that would halt any development in that area.

The Public Service Board, which manages the City-owned land, petitioners and developers all worked with planning firm Dover, Kohl & Partners to draft the Northwest Master Plan. "It was a true compromise. Everyone had to give up something," said Matt McElroy, the City's Planning Director.

The final plan, which cost the City $207,000 stipulated the nearly 800 acres of the plan slated for development be zoned Smart Code while the rest be reserved for undeveloped open space.

When Council voted to explore sectioning off parts of the land set for development into smaller parcels, the petitioners were concerned it'd be a prelude to rezoning the land, which would break the legal agreement they had with the City. Council's decision to identify smaller parcels came after Ray Adauto, the Executive Vice President of the El Paso Association of Home Builders, told Council developers weren't buying land because it was zoned Smart Code and also after other developers said they didn't want to buy a huge chunk of land.

"We gave the petitioners our word and we have no desire to change the plan," said City Rep. Ann Morgan Lilly.

Despite the assurance the land would not be rezoned, Bonart said selling the land in smaller parcels would still be more expensive for the City. He said one of the reasons the PSB chose to sell the land in one big parcel is because in that scenario, the City could use the money paid by the developer to build the infrastructure required to support development in that area. He said if the City sells off the Northwest Master Plan piece by piece, then the City has to pay for the infrastructure up front, instead of using the big payment from one developer. The infrastructure includes water, sewer and stormwater pipes and drains.

Bonart said developers are more susceptible to not following Smart Code if they develop smaller parcels. "You could have one developer not following the Code to the fullest and then the next developer could ask for a break from the City citing the errors of the past developer," said Bonart.

Leeser said the City is still exploring if selling the land in smaller parcels is the right choice.

Jim Tolbert, the activist who led the petition, told the Council he was glad the City Representatives reaffirmed their commitment to the plan. "We'll keep an eye on everything... As long as you keep your end of the agreement, we have a deal."

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