Mayor Bill Souder finally got his Home Depot. It took him two times to convince local officials to approve the huge store, but he closed the deal. At first, he ran into some opposition to the 139,000 s.f. store that would be built at the Mid-Cities Boulevard in North Richland Hills, Texas. More than a hundred neighbors turned out at a hearing in April to oppose the store. And it sure didn’t help that the Planning and Zoning Commission unanimously denied the request to rezone 18 acres of land for the store. But Home Depot appealed the Planning and Zoning ruling, and Mayor Bill Souder’s store got a “second chance”, as the Star-Telegram newspaper called it. At the City Council hearing in May, things went much better for Home Depot. The Council seemed to be unmoved by the unanimous decision of its own P&Z Commission, and with “little comment”, they voted 5-2 to overturn the Planning decision, in the presence of more than 120 opponents. Residents were at a loss to understand how the City Council could ignore its own advisory group, especially when they said the appeal by Home Depot would only be heard if “significant changes” were made to the development plan. All Home Depot did was add some trees to their drawings, change the facade to rock instead of concrete, and move a masonry wall closer to the store. These superficial, cosmetic changes were all the Council needed to pass the plan, making Mayor Bill Souder a wealthy man. For you see, Mayor Bill Souder is not the Mayor of North Richland Hills. He’s the Mayor of Hurst, the next town over. He owns the land that Home Depot wants to build on. Ironically, Mayor Bill Souder’s hometown has a Lowe’s Home Improvement store less than one mile from the site of the proposed Home Depot in N. Richland Hills. So Mayor Souder gains from the Home Depot approval, while his town loses revenue from the placement of a store just over the Hurst town line. Do you suppose officials in either town ever questioned the advisability of placing two home improvement megastores less than one mile apart? Is this truly serving the public need — to rezone land for such redundant activity? And what do you make of those residents who might think that local politics played a role in Mayor Souder’s success over the unanimous objections of the N. Richland Hills Planning & Zoning Commission? Everyone must now be asking; where will Mayor Souder buy his nails: at the Lowe’s in his home town, or the Home Depot on his land? Either way, both communities have been motivated by the promise of bountiful revenues — a promise it will now be hard to fulfill.
Residents of this small Texas town who complained about the store’s location, and its impact on traffic and danger to nearby schoolchildren, might wonder if their town reallly has any Planning and Zoning board any more? Earlier this year local residents also fought a 200,000 s.f. Wal-Mart supercenter on North Tarrant Parkway — but they lost that one also at the City Council level. The Mayor of North Richland Hills, Charlie Scoma, did not seem to be concerned about opposing the sentiments of his own constituents, and claimed that Home Depot had “reconsidered some things due to public input.” So Home Depot got its “second chance”, Mayor Souder got his store, and local residents got disillusioned by the process. Did somebody say all politics is local?