Question from Rich Williams to the Site Trustee

The following is an email sent from Rich Williams to the Site Trustee, Roberto Puga:

Robert- I would ask that my submission of questions below be posted on the “Recasting The Smelter” blog site with responses from the Trust. If this is not posted then I will plan to ask these questions in the next available public forums where you will be speaking, so please be prepared to address these questions.

I am curious why the Trust is in a hurry to rezone the property to El Paso’s optional Smart Code Zoning and why the City of El Paso is the actual applicant for this rezoning application with the cost of the application and site plans being spent by the city with their new-urbanist consultant? I say “in a hurry” because the rezoning application was rushed to the City Plan Commission in a specially scheduled meeting in December 2010 before the normal survey plans were even completed to be provided with the application. This rezoning activity is not on the listing of current activities on the web site which makes this “secretive” involvement with the city highly suspect.

Because the potential use of the property for future development is several years from now it seems completely unnecessary to have the rezoning being rushed before any of the demolition has even started and before all of the environmental investigations and remediation are completed. The Smart Code zoning would prohibit either the east or west sections of the property from being utilized for a single use such as manufacturing which might well be the best use and could bring the highest price for the land. Because of the toxic waste which will remain on the site with ground water monitoring required for 400 more years, because parts of the property cannot have residential or public buildings due to the contamination and particularly because of the highly valuable rail access available to the property, it seems that a commercial or clean industrial user might be ideal and this could afford some great future employment possibilities for the community. So why rush this restrictive rezoning now? Clearly the city would accommodate a rezoning to a potential purchaser when one is identified years from now.

Doesn’t the Trust have a legal obligation to the public to obtain the highest possible sale price for the land? If yes, then why rush now to restrict the potential use of the land with a Smart Code zoning? Doesn’t the EPA and also TCEQ have oversight responsibilities over the Trust in all matters? If so, have these two agencies specifically and independently approved the rezoning from Industrial to Smart Code and how can the city have legal standing to be the applicant for rezoning at taxpayer expense? Isn’t this rezoning a breach of the public trust because it will limit the potential usage of the land and therefore potentially reduce the value of the land? Is the city using some type of influence or leverage to force the Trust to rezone to Smart Code and to do it now?

It is normal for commercial property to be sold contingent on the purchaser obtaining the zoning designation needed for their intended use and operations, so why is the Trust not waiting for the highest bidder for the property to then obtain rezoning if needed at the time when a purchase contract is executed? It seems improper if not illegal for the Trust to be obtaining Smart Code zoning for the property which would restrict the east or west portions from having a single use (such as an auto manufacturing plant). It also seems improper for the Trust to be working with the city to this end when the Trust is under direction of a Federal Bankruptcy court order and accordingly responsible to all Americans and not responsible to the city of El Paso or its officials. As I read the charter for the Trust I did not see any obligations or authority established for the Trust to limit or direct the type of future use of the property… just to obtain the best possible sale price in the public marketplace.

Richard Williams
El Paso, TX

Response from Roberto Puga:

Dear Mr. Williams,

Thank you very much for your interest in this challenging project.

I can not answer in any way for the City of El Paso. I can provide you with the Trust’s perspective in these matters.

The Trust has two objectives:

  1. Implement a remedy to the site’s environmental issues that is protective of human health and the environment; and
  2. Dispose of the properties.

There is a high degree of latitude that I am allowed in achieving the two objectives.

Currently, my main focus is the environmental clean-up. However, I have spent a considerable amount of time during the last year speaking to the public, and garnering a sense of the importance of this site to the El Paso community. It was clear to me immediately that the site’s future merited input from the community, and I pledged to assist the City in its plan to get public input for the development of the site and provide the resources to manage the public process and craft a master plan.

Aside from fulfilling my pledge to incorporate public input into the redevelopment thinking, the process freed up much needed Trust resources to concentrate on the clean-up. In the end, I believe that the City’s process has delivered a comprehensive and varied use plan. The City providing the rezoning application is also a positive for the Trust. Once the remediation is complete in about four years, the Trust can market the properties effectively, and if conditions change or the El Paso market cannot yield the use desired, the Trust has the option marketing the properties for other uses and rezoning if necessary.

Please don’t hesitate to contact me with other questions.


Roberto Puga

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