No Deals (Yet) at Wal-Mart
A task force reviewing a proposed Wal-Mart's impact on a South Austin neighborhood wrapped up the bulk of its work this week, leaving the original development concept pretty much the way it started out -- as a 24-hour, 209,000-square-foot Supercenter. The Zoning and Platting Commission heard a task force update on Tuesday as we went to press; a ZAP vote was not anticipated.
Meanwhile, the Park Ridge Homeowners Association, the group leading the opposition to Wal-Mart's plans at I-35 and Slaughter Lane, is expected to vote tonight (Sept. 25) on whether to accept the agreement put forth by Wal-Mart's local developer, Endeavor Real Estate Group. Endeavor's concessions appear minor considering the project's massive size and scope, which were the neighborhood's main objections to Wal-Mart; Endeavor agreed to make some traffic adjustments, to install sound buffers, to build a small park on the site, and to salvage some trees and plant new ones. One other point of contention -- the plight of a trailer-park community on the property -- has been partially resolved. According to a developer spokesperson, 18 households have already moved from the site, with some families getting financial assistance from Endeavor and Wal-Mart. Two tenants are seeking extensions on their stays, and four others have dug in their heels and are refusing to budge.
Still, the prickliest of Wal-Mart's proposed projects -- the Supercenter that Endeavor wants to build over the Edwards Aquifer at Slaughter and MoPac -- took a wild turn earlier this week as word spread that Mayor Will Wynn would announce a road map for a downsized deal with the developer. Late Monday, the mayor, joined by Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman and Council Member Betty Dunkerley, sought to clarify matters in a press statement announcing Wal-Mart's willingness to negotiate a deal on its aquifer site. Environmental stakeholders -- both "light greens" and "dark greens" -- have questioned the appropriateness of brokering an agreement with Wal-Mart when the retailer has not yet officially closed on the property, currently still controlled by Endeavor.
In any case, to set the proper framework for negotiations (and in reaction to anti-big-box activists' call to oppose Wal-Mart on every front), Wynn would like to delay council action on the I-35/Slaughter Lane zoning case as well as on another proposed Wal-Mart on Ben White west of I-35, which up to now has faced little opposition. The ZAP was expected to take action Tuesday on a proposed zoning change for that site. The property sits at the headwaters of flood-prone Blunn Creek, so drainage issues are, of course, a key neighborhood concern. Other worries center on traffic and the absence of vegetative buffers between the project and the nearby Assumption Cemetery to the east and an apartment complex to the north.