Special Report: Is El Paso expanding the right way or should it change course?

Vision Revision: El Paso's Growth

EL PASO, Texas - As El Paso grows there are different schools of thought on how and where the city should expand.  

And ultimately it affects your pocketbook.

Now one City representative is considering changing how the City goes about growth.

"People move to West Texas because we have so much room, so much land," City Rep. Michiel Noe said.
On the edges of El Paso you'll see buildings in what used to be wide open space.

"Newer schools, new fire stations, new police stations, new streets. Who doesn't like new?" asked Ray Adauto of the El Paso Association of Builders.

That infrastructure takes money with developers paying 75 percent of this cost. The rest is subsidized by tax-payers.

If the development must be annexed, the City charges a fee - $820 per unit developers build.
"The perfect solution would be for them to increase the price of their homes to the point that people can still afford and would pay for all of the sewage going away from and all the water going toward them and enough money to build libraries and police and fire- that would be the perfect solution but that cost right now is just too high for the developers to bear, apparently," Noe said.

Instead of making homes more expensive, Noe says developers are still building communities outside the city to skirt the fees.

But Noe says the city may end up swallowing those sprawling neighborhoods as it grows, assuming the burden anyway.

So City administrators then tried giving incentives to developers to build in the core of the city. Noe says it didn't work.

"To me, it actually encouraged sprawl a little bit because to build inside by a strict smart code they were saying it's too expensive. That the per square foot of these little smaller places would put it out of reach for most El Pasoans," Noe said.

In a departure from the previous City Council's vision, Noe wants to decrease the annexation fee on developers.

"The question is this: Where does the population want to live?" Adauto asked.

Adauto, with the El Paso Association of Builders, represents developers, many of whom build on the fringes of the city.

"We build to where we can get land, that we can do it in large qualities. we build in areas where people want to live

"It's not saying you stop growing at the edge because nobody ever had that intention but it was how do you make it more balanced so you can equalize the cost of building at the edge and building in the city," said Matthew McElroy, the City's director of Development.

McElroy has led efforts to convince developers to grow the core of the city instead of just the outskirts. This is called infill development.

"What happens if tens of thousands of people move out again? You realize you have schools that you're abandoning, power facilities, water systems all of which has been paid for - and the idea is to use what you've paid for in a way so that you're not building new and  having to issue new debt to have to pay for new all of the time," McElroy said.

Adauto says that if there was a demand for that then infill would take off. There isn't that demand, he says.

But McElroy disagrees and points to the most investment Downtown in decades and new walkable, dense developments like Montecillo.

"Nobody can say that it hasn't worked because they're full and they have a waiting list," McElroy said. "It still makes it harder to open a business in an older area of town than something brand new on the edge. There are parking requirements, how you reuse old buildings and so until governments fix all of those things it's always going to be easier to build on the edge than in the core. And El Paso has done a lot to fix that but we're not 100 percent of the way there."

This isn't just about fees, city policies and developers. This about what the city will look life for future generations and how decisions today will shape the landscape of El Paso.

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