On December 3, 2007, Sprawl-Busters reported that Wal-Mart was pushing two new superstores at once in Corpus Christi, Texas — but one of them had run into some flak. A group called Moms Against Wal-Mart spoke out against the retailer’s plans to rezone land from residential to commercial in the middle of their 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. According to the Caller-Times newspaper, Wal-Mart got a waiver approved by the city’s Planning Commission in November, 2007, after resubmitting their plans for a rezoning months ago. Back in March, 2007, 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 asked that their cooling off period be cut in half. 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. In their first proposal, 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. City staff admitted that granting a waiver was a “rare occurrence.” 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. This week, basically two months later, Corpus Christi staff say the retailer has not given them enough information on their plan to make a decision. They are recommending to the Planning Commission — which meets tonight — either table the plan or vote against it. Several Commissioners told the newspaper they are concerned about traffic impacts. So far, all the Commissioners have seen is a traffic study done by Wal-Mart, which always makes the traffic look better than ever. “We need time to review and recommend and we’re frankly not convinced (the latest information from Wal-Mart is) adequate, but it’s at least a step in the right direction,” the city’s planning director told the Caller Times. Wal-Mart has simply resubmitted the traffic impact study it paid for in its first request, but didn’t make any revisions.
Planning Commissioner James Skrobarczyk Sr. told the newspaper that the city should learn the traffic impact of new developments from an independent study, instead of relying on developers to critique their own developments. But he said slowing down the project for more traffic studies could lead to bigger problems if Wal-Mart drops the entire project. If Wal-Mart opens two new supercenters, the “old” Wal-Mart store on South Padre Island Drive will go dark, and workers at that store would be transferred to one of the new supercenters. 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, and Planning Commission Chairman Bryan Stone, know that Corpus Christi 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 and Planning Commission 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.