Strategy would add acreage to Franklin Mountains State Park (Update)
El Paso City Council and the Public Service Board have unanimously approved a plan that would deed approximately 600 acres of mountain foothills, rugged arroyos and desert open space to be largely preserved in their natural state and included in the Franklin Mountains State Park.
The strategy, which represents an important consensus among the PSB, city staff and naturalists, would also allow high-quality, mixed-use development to be built to the city's SmartCode standards on 800 adjoining acres.
"I want to thank … the PSB and the city for doing what I consider to be an absolutely stellar job of looking at the conservation options for this land," said Mike Gaglio, president of the Frontera Land Alliance, a local non-profit organization that works to preserve open space as a means to increase quality of life for El Pasoans.
Under the strategy, land along Transmountain Road and immediately adjacent to the Franklin Mountains State Park would be purchased by the state for inclusion in the park. It would be managed by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.
If the state attempts to sell the land for any purpose, the strategy calls for it to revert to immediate ownership of the city and be designated as municipal park space that would require a majority vote of the public to overturn. Going even further, the land would be subject to a conservation easement that bars future development there.
Nearby arroyos that would not be deeded to the state park would be preserved under the newly-created stormwater open space designation.
"Major arroyo areas in the path of, or adjoining, development must be treated differently to manage stormwater," said El Paso Water Utilities land policy expert Pat Adauto. "Adjoining development will be designed to minimize destruction of arroyos."
Because any construction would adhere to the principles of the city's SmartCode, the mixed-use development will be clustered into walkable neighborhoods – leaving hundreds of acres undisturbed.
The question quickly became how best to preserve the acreage that wouldn't be developed. After months of fact-finding, experts unanimously recommended deeding the land to the state park.
"We knew that we wanted to preserve this open space in perpetuity," said attorney Risher Gilbert, who used her expertise on land-use issues to help craft the strategy. "The state park is already dealing with property like this; they are here for the long stay; and we have a good track record with them."
The city of El Paso purchased the 1,600-acre tract of land using El Paso Water Utilities ratepayer money in the 1960s. Therefore, the PSB holds the land in trust on behalf of the city.