Beeware of Mall

Barring an 11th-hour postponement, the Village of Bee Cave will vote Tuesday on a $350 million shopping mall at Hwy. 71 and RM 620, west of Austin. By most indications, the village Board of Aldermen will deliver a thumbs-up for the development, one of the more controversial plans to hit town since the landowner tried to stick a Wal-Mart on the same site. The Board has also called a special meeting for Monday to hear citizens' concerns about the project.

All things considered, said Alderman Mike Murphy, the Hill Country Galleria would complement Bee Cave's aesthetic values. "We'd rather be a West Lake Hills than a Sunset Valley," he noted. "The image we want is upscale. We don't want a discount power center." The developer also is trying to nail some top-of-the-line anchor stores for the 114-acre project, including Saks Fifth Avenue, Lord & Taylor, or Nieman-Marcus. In fact, Village officials will offer a $25-$30 million incentive plan that hinges on the developer's ability to secure fashionable anchor stores.

But the Galleria's social status is the least of concerns for residents of Lake Pointe, a nearby subdivision of about 3,000 residents. The same goes for the Save Our Springs Alliance, which argues the "sprawl mall" will generate thousands of cars a day in the sensitive Barton Springs watershed zone, and whip up demand for more development. "We're in ETJ hell," groaned Lake Pointe resident Pat Sinnot, referring to the subdivision's location outside the city limits, thus limiting their sway at city hall. "We outnumber the village 3-1, but they like to use our numbers when it's convenient for them." Sinnot was referring to city officials' acceptance of a Lake Pointe petition of 120 signatures against a proposed Wal-Mart, which the Board of Aldermen also opposed. Residents didn't have the same success in registering opposition to the Galleria, even though they produced about 450 signatures. The neighbors have since beefed up their tactics, formed the Families for a Safe Traffic Environment, and hired ex-Congressman and prominent San Antonio attorney Tom Loeffler. Sinnot says she's especially worried about the developer's plans to build a four-lane bypass road connecting Bee Caves Road to 620. "We'll go from living out in the middle of nowhere to living next to I-35," she said.

Alderman Murphy believes Bee Cave has little choice but to allow a development on the property, known as the Baldwin Tract, but that the Galleria is the most desirable option. City officials released the development agreement on Monday. "The agreement that we worked out is much more restrictive than what [developer Chris Milam] originally wanted," Murphy said of the deal. "It's going to be 35% smaller than what was originally proposed; that's 20 to 25 less acres paved over." More importantly, he said, by paving the way for the Galleria, the city might just be able to settle its long-running legal battle with the landowner, who is hellbent on developing the property.

Both Monday and Tuesday meetings on the proposal are at 7pm in the village Administration Building, 13333-A Hwy. 71 West. More info on the proposed development, both pro and con, is available at www.hillcountrygalleria.com and www.nohillcountrygalleria.com (the Web sites listed in last week's account were incorrect).

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