Naked City

Wal-Mart Wins on I-35

The silent majority has spoken, so to speak, and it wants -- nay, needs -- a Wal-Mart Supercenter at Slaughter Lane and I-35. The City Council is expected to respond today (Thursday) with its third and final reading of a zoning case that raised hard questions about the economic and social impact of Wal-Mart's planned expansion in the Austin market.

Thus far, the council has not expressed any interest in doing a study of the potential culture clash between Wal-Mart and Weird Austin, at least not in the area of far South I-35. But a second Wal-Mart zoning case, on Ben White west of I-35, is due before council next week, and that one could prove a little trickier. The opposing South River City Citizens neighborhood group has hired Lauren Ross, a no-nonsense engineer, to review the environmental impact of a Supercenter development right at the southern tip of Blunn Creek.

But a Wal-Mart at Slaughter and I-35 appears pretty much in the bag. The retailer's Austin lawyer, Richard Suttle, claims that 5,000 to 6,000 Austinites living within a few miles of that location voiced their support for the Supercenter via phone calls, letters, and e-mails to council members. At last week's hearing, Mayor Will Wynn read off the names of folks "not wishing to speak" who had signed cards in favor of the development, but few people spoke. One woman said she would be in heaven with a Wal-Mart in the neighborhood. "This is the appropriate place for a super Wal-Mart. We have been waiting for years, and we beg you, please, to approve this."

The weak turnout for the opposition helped expedite the council's quick and easy 6-0 vote (Betty Dunkerley was absent but would have provided a seventh yea vote). Right now, the council's primary concern is just to keep Wal-Marts and other big boxes off of the few undeveloped tracts over the Edwards Aquifer (see above). The opposing neighborhood group -- the Park Ridge Homeowners Association -- kept the Slaughter Lane project on the hook for several months and scored the creation of a Zoning and Platting Commission task force to nail down some concessions from Wal-Mart on landscaping and traffic safety and the like. In the end, though, the world's largest everything carried the day.

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Wal-Mart, Betty Dunkerley, Richard Suttle, Blunn Creek, Lauren Ross, Edwards Aquifer, Park Ridge Homeowners Association

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