Wal-Mart has no illusions about how neighbors feel about their proposed supercenter at the Northcross Mall in Austin, Texas. Their plan attracted not one, but two lawsuits. On July 1, 2007, Sprawl-Busters reported that Wal-Mart was trying to force neighbors in Austin to accept a 225,000 s.f. superstore. But even in Texas, some things can be too big. Public pressure against the superstore forced the developer to come back in with a “smaller” plan — but not quite small enough to please opponents. Wal-Mart offered to cut the store in the Northcross Mall by 15% — from 219,000 s.f. to 186,500 s.f. But on June 26th the city approved Wal-Mart’s plan, settling on a 198,000 s.f. footprint. The citizen’s group that has been fighting this project, vowed to take their case to court, and did so on June 28th. Responsible Growth For Northcross (R4GN) filed their lawsuit in district court to stop the North Austin Wal-Mart proposal. A second lawsuit was also filed by a group called the Allendale Neighborhood Association (ANA). This week, District Judge Margaret Cooper threw out the ANA lawsuit, which said the city of Austin should have held public hearings before approving the developer’s site plan. “The fight has gone on for over a year now,” the ANA said on its website. “It has been a major resource drain and we have legal bills to pay. Judge Margaret Cooper ruled that the City was not obligated to hold a public hearing in the approval process for the developer’s site plan at Northcross. That said, the fight is not over. This is still not a done deal. The RG4N trial is on for Tuesday, November 13.” “I’m extremely disappointed in the judge’s decision on this and actually surprised. I thought we had a very strong case in this matter,” Tom Linehan of the neighborhood association told the Austin Statesman. ANA said that Wal-Mart should have a hearing. The judge ruled that the garden center can be considered an “accessory” use, and that the store might not even built the outdoor center. The ANA decision just sets the stage for the RG4N lawsuit hearing this coming week.
The RG4N released a statement on the Judge’s decision, saying: “The ruling on ANA’s motion does not affect a claim RG4N made about the proposed garden center nor does it affect RG4N’s other three claims. We remain confident that we have a winning case.” RG4N says the superstore will bring traffic, noise and ruin the area’s character. Just by getting involved, the two citizen’s groups have already forced Wal-Mart to accept several compromises they would not have otherwise met. The company ended up shrinking its store size to 198,000 s.f. They also were forced to abandon a 24-hour store format, and they agreed not to allow delivery trucks to run along residential streets. Even before the second lawsuit is heard, Wal-Mart has already lost some major battles. But RG4N wants a Wal-Mart that has no open hours at all — and they’ve been fighting for a year now to make that happen. “Responsible Growth for Northcross is actively working for a mixed-use redevelopment of the Northcross area,” the group says. “We also are opposed to the Lincoln Property Company plan to build a giant, two-story Wal-Mart Supercenter and three-story parking garage in the middle of our vibrant Austin neighborhoods. We have a better idea. Here’s why our idea is better: Our roads can’t handle 20,000 more cars per day. The developer’s traffic study shows how their project will bring streets to the brink of failure. Ours will fit in better. Our project would be approved only after public hearings and community review. The developer flew the Wal-Mart plan under the radar to avoid public attention. That’s wrong and unacceptable. We propose a sustainable development. The developer’s plan is another example of ugly, suburban sprawl in a place where it doesn’t belong. Our city deserves better and we have city ordinances in place to promote better development. On June 28, 2007, we filed a lawsuit against the City of Austin and Lincoln Property Company to stop this development. When we win, the developer will have to go back to the drawing board and come up with a plan that is better for our neighborhoods — and for Austin.” For further information, go to http://www.rg4n.org/