If you motor down South Padre Island Drive in Corpus Christi, Texas you will pass by Wal-Mart supercenter #470. If you keep on cruising down South Padre Island Drive, you’ll also find a Wal-Mart Discount store # 1494. For a major city with 286,000 people, you may say two Wal-Marts is not enough. Wal-Mart agrees, and in fact, they are pushing two new stores at once in Corpus Christi — but one of them has run into some flak. Some Corpus Christi residents strongly object to residential land being rezoned commercial for another Wal-Mart. A group called Moms Against Wal-Mart (where are the Dads?) who live on the Southside of Corpus Christi met yesterday to plan a strategy for preventing a Wal-Mart supercenter from sprawling in the middle of their residential neighborhood. The homeowners in the Timbergate neighborhood say traffic already is a nightmare, and a project the scale of this supercenter definitely will kick up traffic, boost crime, and lower property values. The next confrontation point in the process is before the City Council on December 18th. According to the Caller-Times newspaper, Wal-Mart got their waiver approved by the city’s Planning Commission in November, after resubmitting their plans for a rezoning months ago. Last March, Wal-Mart squeaked by the Planning Commission on a 5-3 vote favor of the project. But in June, Wal-Mart withdrew their rezoning application for South Staples Street just one day before it was scheduled to come before the City Council. Normally, if an application is pulled, the proponent has to wait a full year before resubmitting. But in this case, Wal-Mart wants special dispensation from the City to come back within six months, cutting the cooling off period in half. The city’s zoning ordinance allows a “waiver” of the one year delay. The second time around, Wal-Mart is petitioning the city to change the land they want from its current designation of R-1B, or single family, to B-1, a neighborhood business district. Last time around Wal-Mart wanted a B-4 district, or general commercial. Although they wanted B-4 before, now they claim their superstore makes sense in a “neighborhood” commercial zone. To apply for the B-1 zone, Wal-Mart had to eliminate a tire and lube center from the mix — but that’s a minor loss on their part. City staff admitted that granting a waiver was a “rare occurrence” according to the Caller-Times. But when the Planning Commission met, they voted unanimously to approve a “rare” waiver for Wal-Mart officials to proceed with their rezoning application. They did so despite the presence of roughly 50 residents wearing t-shirts that read, “Vote No to Rezoning.” At the Planning Commission hearing, no one came forward to testify in favor of the plan. “What does it say when not a single person spoke in favor of granting the waiver and yet the commission voted unanimously to approve it?” one opponent of the plan told the Caller-Times. The Planning Commission dodged the issue, saying their vote was only to enable the issue to come to a head. One Commissioner told the crowd of opponents, “We are just providing council with a recommendation. They ultimately will make the decision.” But if the Commission had voted now, the project would have been dead for another six months.
The Wal-Mart waiver request to consider rezoning for a Southside store was supposed to take place on Dec. 11th , but it was moved to the Dec. 18th City Council agenda. Officials explained that the delay was made to allow time for legal notifications to go out. Wal-Mart is hoping to open one new supercenter at the Parkdale Plaza, and open a second store at Timbergate around the same time. The “old” Wal-Mart store on South Padre Island Drive would then go dark, and workers at that store would be transferred to one of the new supercenters. The retailer has been trying to soften up neighbors since last March. The company held public meetings, did telephone surveys to measure their support, and even walked around the neighborhoods to downplay the store’s impact with local homeowners. Corpus Christi Mayor Henry Garret told his constituents that we was going to abstain from voting on the advice of the City’s lawyer, because the Mayor lives within two blocks of the project. And City Councilman Larry Elizondo, who represents the district where the development is proposed, also said he might abstain because his home also is near the property. A third Councilman, Mike McCutchon, said he might abstain because his brother-in-law is a construction contractor who has done business with Wal-Mart. There are 9 members of the City Council, and 5 of them are needed for a quorum. Corpus Christi is a city that has one vision it talks about, but another vision it lives. The “official” vision statement for the city says the goal is, “To make Corpus Christi one of the most livable communities in America. To create a vibrant, progressive, clean city that rejoices in its diversity…and provide an abundance of economic development opportunities while paying special attention to our unique environment.” It’s hard to reconcile this vision with two more Wal-Mart supercenters. One of the city’s “Focus Areas” is the downtown, and “vacant buildings.” The city cannot invest in its downtown and keep permitting big box stores outside the central business district. Placing a huge superstore on land meant for residential development is a misdirected economic plan. Readers are urged to let Mayor Henry Garrett know that his city is headed for “double-trouble” with their two new Wal-Mart superstores. Go to the Mayor’s Comment Form, at http://www.cctexas.com/forms/Mayorsform/MayorsCommentForm.cfm, and tell the Mayor that “Wal-Mart is incompatible with the vision statement for Corpus Christi, and that Timbergate neighbors should not have to lose so that Wal-Mart wins. Rezoning is not a mandate, it’s a discretionary act, and must be based on sound zoning criteria. Texas currently has 24 dead Wal-Marts. It doesn’t need one more in Corpus Christi.” The residents of Corpus Christi should be prepared to go to court over this one.