El Paso

Council takes no action on petition that would let voters decide fate of Duranguito

Council takes no action on petition that would let voters decide fate of Duranguito

EL PASO, Texas - El Paso City Council members discussed and took no action on a petition filed by Paso del Sur, the group that wants to create a historic overlay for the Duranguito neighborhood.

The discussion happened behind closed doors during Executive Session at Tuesday's Council meeting. Council eventually voted 7-1 to take no action. District 2 City Representative Alexsandra Annello was the only one who voted in favor of letting the voters decide.

"El Paso City Council chose to remain in compliance with state laws governing zoning by taking no action," a news release from the City states.

"Texas courts have historically ruled that you cannot have a vote of the people on zoning laws," said Lowell Denton, an attorney for the City.

"At the end of the day, putting this historic overlay up to a ballot, a referendum, would be ruled unconstitutional and illegal. It would only cost taxpayers even more money," said El Paso City Representative Peter Svarzbein.

According to the City, state statutes governing zoning ordinances state "notice and hearing" procedures are due process required for the protection of the property owner. "For this reason, Texas Courts have consistently ruled that the ballot box cannot be used to enact zoning ordinances," the City said in a news release. 

The group that wants to preserve the neighborhood disagrees with the City.

“Our viewpoint on everything is to take it out of the hands of the few and put it into the hands of all of El Paso,"  said Jose Quintero, an organizer for Paso del Sur. "So, they can vote on whether or not they believe we should preserve our history via this historic overlay of Duranguito.”

This is the second round of signatures turned in efforts to preserve Duranguito. The first time volunteers gathered more than 2,400 signatures, however, City Council took no action on the petition.

Instead, Council took the issue to court. In August, an Austin judge ruled the city could build a facility, but it was not allowed to host sporting events.

This time around, the City Clerk validated 1,974 signatures, exceeding the required number of 1,666 signatures. According to a statement released by the City, the certification does not automatically place the item on the ballot.

"Zoning is not an appropriate topic for an initiative petition," said city attorney Silvia Firth.

 "The voters who voted in favor of a multipurpose performing arts facility did not vote to demolish Duranguito," said Paso Del Sur member Citlalic Jeffers.

Jeffers tells ABC-7 she was disappointed with the councils decision.

"It's very disheartening to see this lack of leadership within the city council to take a stand and align with what is right," Jeffers said.

City attorneys have said there is no precedent in Texas law that allows historic overlay to be placed over a neighborhood as a result of citizen petitions.

The Paso Del Sur group says they will focus on making El Pasoans aware of the historical value the neighborhood has.

Paso Del Sur will host a Duranguito Dia De Los Muertos event Nov. 1 at 6 p.m.

The event will have history exhibits and a walking tour.

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