Residents in Austin, Texas chalked up a major victory against the King of Retail this week when they heard on KXAN TV on October 2nd. that plans to build a 200,000 s.f. Wal-Mart supercenter on top of an aquifer recharge zone in Southwest Austin had been pulled. Austin Mayor Will Wynn announced that Wal-Mart and its developer, Endeavor Real Estate, had ended their endeavor together at the MoPac and Slaughter location. “Wal-Mart and Endeavor have both announced that they will be withdrawing from the potential development of that site,” the Mayor said. A Wal-Mart spokesperson said the decision for Wal-Mart to cut their losses was “rare” for the company, but claimed they did so because of environmental reasons. “What makes this site special specifically is it’s position in the recharge zone over the Barton Springs Aquifer,” the company explained, carefully avoiding making any mention of the citizen firestorm of opposition to the plan. But a spokesman for the developer was more straightforward, telling the Austin Business Journal: “To call the reaction to the project mild would be an understatement.” Wal-Mart’s decision to withdraw from southwest Austin still leaves at least two other supercenter locations in the works, part of Wal-Mart’s Assault on Austin. As usual, Wal-Mart blames this rapacious development on its customers. “Wal-Mart customers are telling the company they want more stores in Austin,” the company told the Business Journal. The Mayor simply told the media the Wal-Mart removal was “the right thing for Austin” and “I applaud their decision.” Some observers suggested that Wal-Mart’s cancellation was predicated on deals from the city on the other locations in Austin it is seeking. Last week, the Mayor came under fire for even suggesting that tax rebates might be possible for other Wal-Mart locations in Austin. Local anti-sprawl activists say they want the City Council to ban big box stores over the aquifer, while others want a cap on the size of stores anywhere in the city, an idea now growing in popularity across the country. The city has already spent millions of dollars to buy up environmentally critical land over the Edwards aquifer, which is the drinking water supply for at least 50,000 Austin residents, and is also the source of water for the Barton Springs pool. Activists complained that Wal-Mart was “taking advantage of a seven-year-old legal settlement that exempts the (supercenter) site from compliance with Austin’s current citizen-initiated water quality standards, the company has refused to commit to measures that would ensure Austin’s drinking water is not polluted by run-off from its site. ” According to their website, www.saveaustin.com, “Concerned citizens from across the community have been joined in their opposition to Wal-Mart’s plan by a coalition of southwest Austin neighbors alarmed by the proposed Supercenter’s certain impact on area traffic and neighborhood safety…In addition to overwhelming the already-congested Slaughter Lane with traffic, Wal-Mart’s site plan also presents a clear safety hazard for adjacent neighbors and their children, as thousands of vehicles make their way through residential streets ill-prepared to accommodate both motorists and pedestrians. Just one block from the proposed site entrance on Sendera Mesa Drive is a popular community swimming pool. Adding insult to injury, the proposed Supercenter site is less than four miles, to the south, from an existing Wal-Mart store. Three miles to the east, Wal-Mart is proposing to build another Supercenter facility.”
Another one bites the dust! Residents in Austin were extremely well-organized, and have produced a wonderul website, www.saveaustin.com. Texas has the unusual distinction of having more Wal-Mart “dead stores” than any other state in the nation. But in Austin, concerted citizen opposition has driven Wal-Mart away, and allowed another city to join the growing list of communities that have “slam dunked” Wal-Mart. For more stories of Texas towns that did in Wal-Mart, search this database by the word “Texas”.