Bending to popular will, the El Paso County Commissioners Court unanimously approved a new boundary for the proposed Segundo Barrio National Historic District that includes the 127-year-old Sacred Heart Church.
The decision reverses a 3-2 vote two weeks ago and came at the urging of Bishop Mark Seitz. He and other leaders were concerned about the June 15 approval of boundaries that would have divided Segundo Barrio, putting the church and neighborhoods south of Paisano Drive in a proposed Downtown historic district.
That church has been a singular unifying presence in Segundo Barrio since 1893.
By the time the Commissioners Court session began the morning of Monday, June 29, more than 2,200 people had signed an online petition calling on the court to overturn its previous vote.
At the meeting, 15 callers also urged Commissioners Carlos Leon, Vince Perez and Carl Robinson to draw the line for the Downtown district at Paisano Drive and preserve Segundo Barrio as a second national historic district.
No one spoke in favor of the plan approved two weeks ago that included Sacred Heart and more than 200 other buildings south of Paisano in a proposed Downtown historic district.
The establishment of the historic districts would not place restrictions on property owners but would enable them to recoup as much as 45% of the cost for renovations through state and federal tax credits. Although the national register places no restrictions on properties, those who take advantage of the tax credits have to navigate a daunting array of historic standards and guidelines.
Opening the remotely conducted meeting to comments from 15 callers, County Judge Ricardo Samaniego said approval of national historic districts would be a huge step forward for El Paso by inviting heritage tourism.
The Segundo Barrio district would also be the largest such district in the nation.
The first to speak was Max Grossman, a former member of the El Paso County Historical Commission who has pushed for the establishment of a national Segundo Barrio district with the right boundaries.
“There’s nothing more important for El Paso than to get this right the first time,” Grossman said, citing the support of the Paso Del Sur organization and other groups for the boundaries being reconsidered Monday.
“It is symbolically, historically and culturally critical that Sacred Heart and all of the west Segundo Barrio be included with the neighborhood that was established 135 years ago,” he said. “I think at this point everybody has converged, and we’re all on the same page.”
Others who spoke included Oscar J. Martinez, a retired history professor and author, attorney Carmen Rodriguez, who has represented residents trying to keep their homes in the face of development, railroad historian Prince McKenzie and historians Yolanda Chavez Vela and Bernie Sargent.
When the last speaker finished, Commissioner David Stout offered the motion to approve the proposal on the table.
But first, the commissioners had to rescind the court’s previous approval of boundaries putting Sacred Heart in the Downtown historic district.
Before casting his vote, Robinson said he understood the issues better than before thanks to the staff presentation and previously had no intent to divide the Segundo Barrio.
“There was never any intent on my part not to do the right thing,” he said.
Email El Paso Inc. reporter David Crowder at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (915) 630-6622.