Sunday, September 23, 2012

Glory Road SmartCode Initiative Moves Forward

The City of El Paso held its third community meeting to educate the public about an upcoming initiative that will rezone areas between Downtown and neighborhoods immediately east of the University of Texas at El Paso with SmartCode, including the historic Kern neighborhood.

City officials were on hand at the September 22, 2012 meeting to explain how the plan would affect the more than 500 acres that are included in the initiative and respond to any questions or concerns that property owners within the boundaries may have had.

The focus of the City's outreach seems to be the Kern neighborhood, letting homeowners know that, despite the zoning change occurring underneath their feet, the purpose of the rezoning initiative is not to force any changes on current properties. In fact, the T-3 zone for El Paso's SmartCode was largely influenced by the desirability of the Kern neighborhood, according to City Planner Michael McElroy, who was at the meeting to answer residents' questions.

Planner Michael McElroy
"There won't be any change to your use. Your house or your business will continue to exist in its current state," according to McElroy. "The great thing about the Kern neighborhood, in fact, is that we want it to stay the Kern neighborhood. We want other parts of El Paso to have Kern-like neighborhoods."

So it makes sense that the Kern neighborhood will have the zone of T-3, a suburban transect which reflects the area's historic look. Officials hope that this will help preserve the area's feel by preventing new housing from feeling out of place in the neighborhood. Currently, a new building in an empty lot within Kern is required to be built using the same standards seen in newer, post World War II areas. The SmartCode will assure that a new building in the old district is respectful of the history in the area, mainly with reference to building placement, setbacks, driveway placement, and size. The City does not want to limit or define architectural style or aesthetics.

Closest to Downtown, just north of Interstate 10, the area will be zoned with T-5, the second highest density transect in SmartCode. Areas along the Mesa/Oregon/Stanton corridor will be zoned T-4, a less dense but still urban use. Mesa Street nearer to UTEP will also include the denser T-5 transect.

As a state agency, UTEP is exempt from complying with any zoning requirements. But McElroy points out that UTEP's recently unveiled master plan includes many SmartCode ideals.

"What they've proposed is perfectly aligned with what we're trying to do outside of the UTEP area. So there is not conflict in terms of the vision for the area."

Oregon Street looking north towards Glory Road.
In the rezoning map, most of UTEP is code as a Special District. However, there are certain parcels within the school's boundaries coded as T-4 and T-5, particularly the old Rudolph car dealership area which the University owns. This may point to plans already in place to transform those properties.

City Staff will now present City Council representatives with their findings from the community meetings to determine whether or not a rezoning application will be created and how quickly the process will progress. The ultimate rezoning application would require approval by the full City Council.

Glory Road SmartCode Initiative at the Plan El Paso website:

Kern, UTEP Areas May See Next Smart Code Initiative
UTEP Unveils Campus 'Transformation' Images