RG4N to Sue City Today
Responsible Growth for Northcross files a lawsuit today against the city of Austin and Lincoln Property Co., asserting that the city's Tuesday approval of a second site plan for the redevelopment of Northcross Mall was illegal.
By Katherine Gregor,
10:47AM, Thu. Jun. 28, 2007
Responsible Growth for Northcross is filing its lawsuit today against the city of Austin and Lincoln Property Co., asserting that the city's Tuesday approval of a second site plan for the redevelopment of Northcross Mall was illegal.
Grounds for the lawsuit include claims that a conditional use permit process should have been followed, that the city prejudicially failed to enforce a plat note requiring a higher standard for water quality (rainwater runoff) for the redevelopment of the site, and other allegations regarding the city's failure to follow its own ordinances and processes.
"We are dismayed that the City once again has approved a site plan for Northcross in violation of several of its own laws," said RG4N President Hope Morrison in a statement. "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."
"This has been a very tough issue," said Assistant City Manager Laura Huffman, sounding discouraged about the impending lawsuit. The ACM noted that the developer's promised voluntary upgrades to the project, brokered by city staff, are not in the site plan that was approved. "We're still waiting for their changes to be submitted, in the form of a site plan amendment that will confirm what they presented," said Huffman. She added, "I'm hoping for that immediately."
Attorney Richard Suttle continues to represent Lincoln, although he no longer represents Wal-Mart. Suttle said earlier that one reason he gave up championing the mega-client was the public humiliation it had brought upon his unhappy wife and mother-in-law.
IF RG4N prevails with a judge, Lincoln would have to start the process over and file a new site plan. That plan would be subject to two city ordinances that have since gone into effect. The Big Box Ordinance requires a public hearing and explicitly provides 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.
While Wal-Mart had earlier sent a letter to the city stating that it would be "forced to reevaluate" its voluntary project upgrades if a third-party lawsuit was filed, Wal-Mart Public Affairs Manager Lisa Elledge stated this morning, "At this time, we're still committed to making the voluntary changes that we've committed to. We're still moving forward on that."
In a press release praising the site plan approval Tuesday, the megaretailer stated, "Wal-Mart is committed to making minor changes to Lincoln's approved site plan and to its actual operations in order to address the concerns of our neighbors and to create a project that will reflect the community's needs." For a list of the upgrades, Elledge directed citizens to www.walmart-northcross.com. She noted that many community members support the project. Groups are in dialogue with Wal-Mart other than RG4N, such as the North Shoal Creek Neighborhood Association.Lincoln has begun redeveloping the eastern portion of the site as a reconfigured mall, where new and relocated tenants plan to open by October. Plans for the Lincoln-developed portion of the site – primarily an old-style boxy mall of 153,000 square feet – show a bland project of notably inferior quality to plans shown by Wal-Mart for its portion, which includes a 192,000-square-foot supercenter with a 322,000-square-foot parking garage. Lincoln's plans lack the exterior design, increased greenspace with native landscaping, pedestrian amenities, and sustainable "green building" features that were added by Wal-Mart in an effort to appease the surrounding neighborhoods.