Just over a year ago, Sprawl-Busters reported that residents in Austin, Texas had contacted us regarding a proposed Wal-Mart superstore planned for the existing Northcross Mall. The retailer’s plan attracted not one, but two lawsuits. 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 citizens group that have 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). In November, 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. Judge 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. But the RG4N lawsuit still stood in the way of Wal-Mart and its supercenter. “We remain confident that we have a winning case,” RG4N said when the ANA lawsuit was thrown out. The two citizen’s groups have already forced Wal-Mart to accept several compromises they would not have otherwise met. The company shrunk 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. The city of Austin also adopted a Big Box ordinance limiting development — a law that will impact all future superstore developments. But RG4N wants to keep this Wal-Mart out. “Responsible Growth for Northcross is actively working for a mixed-use redevelopment of the Northcross area,” the group said. “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. The developer’s traffic study shows how their project will bring streets to the brink of failure. 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.” This week, CBS keyetv.com reported that a judge ruled against the RG4N lawsuit. The city’s attorney told the TV station, “This site plan got approved because that is what the law required, period. It is a victory for the integrity of the process.” But RG4N told the media that it is still considering its options in light of the court decision. The group is talking with its lawyers, and will hold a public meeting in mid January to announce next steps. For further information, go to http://www.rg4n.org
In a statement released to the media after the court ruling, RG4N wrote: “Today, the 200th Judicial District Court of Travis County issued its ruling on our lawsuit. The court ruled that the site plan approval was consistent with city ordinances. RG4N is disappointed with this verdict. But we are not done fighting. We are merely back where we were one year ago, when neighbors resoundingly said, “No!” to this irresponsible development. And in the court of public opinion, Wal-Mart, Lincoln and the City of Austin have been losing since Day One. Unless we continue to act, we believe the City and developers will take this ruling as a green light to continue business as usual, pursuing any and all development without regard to the wishes of, or effect on, neighborhoods. We invite citizens from all over Austin who will stand up and keep fighting to come meet with us on Friday, January 11, 2008 at St. Louis Catholic Church. Moreover, while Judge Naranjo outlined her reasoning for her ruling on the garden center issue, she gave no explanation for her ruling on most of our claims. Without such an explanation, we continue to believe that we conclusively established noncompliance with the law on our other claims. We will further discuss the ruling and our options with our attorneys, and will have more to say on January 11th about how we plan to proceed.” RG4N President, Hope Morrison, told members of the group, “If we should lose, I believe most if not all of the incumbent Council members will lose the support of most Northcross-area voters. The situation is likely to affect the next couple of elections either way, but if a Supercenter gets built it will be a daily reminder to voters that the City failed us.” Morrison also asked supporters to help the group raise $40,000 to pay off their attorneys, Doug Young and Brad Rockwell. To make an online donation to RG4N, go to http://www.rg4n.org/fundraising/donate.