Sprawl-Busters reported on May 12, 2007 that Wal-Mart was trying to force neighbors in Austin, Texas 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 was in district court to stop the North Austin Wal-Mart proposal. The suit named the city of Austin and Lincoln Property Company as defendants. The suit charges the development violates city code because the increased traffic would endanger public safety and slow down Emergency medical vehicles. It also alleges that the development would cut down several live oak trees which are protected by city ordinance and increase rain runoff into Shoal Creek. “We’re actually involved in some discussions with the opposing party at this point to try to get an agreement that would freeze at least some of the activity going on — until we get some resolutions from the courts on this,” Brad Rockwell, RG4N attorney, told KVUE News. The suit also claims that a conditional use permit process should have been followed. “We are dismayed that the City once again has approved a site plan for Northcross in violation of several of its own laws,” RG4N President Hope Morrison told the Austin Business Journal. “We have tried for months to resolve this situation without litigation, but the City, the developer and Wal-Mart have made it clear that they won’t listen unless someone sues them.” If RG4N wins its case, the developer will have to start the process over with a new site plan. That plan would be subject to two city ordinances that have since gone into effect. Austin’s new Big Box Ordinance requires a public hearing and gives the city council discretion in the site plan review and approval process. The project also would be subject to the city’s design standards and mixed-use ordinance, which would require a higher-quality project design. The city’s lawyer told the Daily Texan newspaper, “All of the issues that are raised in the lawsuit were raised between the Responsible Growth for Northcross and the city over the past couple of months, and all of these issues have been carefully reviewed by the city staff.” R4GN has also filed a temporary restraining order to freeze construction on the property. Morrison said RG4N’s concerns were not just about Wal-Mart — but with how the city handles its rapid growth.
On the group’s website, www.rg4n.org, they say, “We have spent months trying to get our City to simply enforce the land use regulations against Lincoln Property and Wal-Mart. Our City could not be persuaded to follow the law. So now, we’ve filed suit in order to get a court to order our City and to order Lincoln Property to obey the law. The site plan approved on Tuesday, June 26, is illegal. When successful, this suit will get it declared illegal and invalid, and prevent Lincoln Property Company and Wal-Mart from destroying Northcross and turning it into a mammoth big box store.” Morrison said the group will need financial support from the community as it pursues the lawsuit. “For RG4N to prevail, we need financial support not only from our Northcross area supporters, but also from people all across Austin.” Readers can donate online by going to the group’s website. For earlier Austin stories, search Newsflash by the city’s name.