Naked City

No size cap, RECA shrieks

Kirk Watson
Kirk Watson (Photo By John Anderson)

Two Austin business groups are predicting a landscape of economic gloom and doom if the City Council approves an ordinance limiting the size of big-box retail development on environmentally sensitive lands over the Edwards Aquifer. The council is scheduled to take action today (Thursday) on a ban proposal that has won the support of the city Environmental Board and the Planning Commission. A 6pm public hearing will precede the council's vote.

Meanwhile, both the Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce and the Real Estate Council of Austin are urging council members to reject the ordinance, arguing that its passage would drive sales-tax dollars outside of Austin despite the ban's limited reach -- city officials say the ordinance would only apply to a handful of sites in the aquifer's sensitive Barton Springs zone. The council has previously given overwhelming support to a temporary moratorium on bix boxes in the area.

The chamber and RECA particularly take issue with the argument that big-box retailers generate an excessive amount of traffic, more so than stand-alone grocery stores. The proposed ordinance would ban retail projects over 50,000 square feet but would allow for grocery stores up to 100,000 square feet. In an e-mail alert to its membership, RECA leaders Tim Taylor and Diana Zuniga point to one traffic analysis that shows that a large, free-standing discount store generates 45% less traffic than a similarly sized stand-alone grocery store. However, the undated study only looked at discount stores up to 125,000 square feet, while most megastores these days -- which typically incorporate grocery departments -- exceed 200,000 square feet.

The RECA e-mail goes on to blame progressive consultant Mike Blizzard, identified as an "unregistered lobbyist," for crafting the ordinance "on behalf of a small group of people in the name of protecting the environment." Blizzard -- a newly registered lobbyist -- says he did not write the ordinance. (Taylor's predecessor as RECA chair, Kirk Rudy of Endeavor Real Estate Group, saw his company's plans to develop a Wal-Mart Supercenter over the aquifer torpedoed by a community opposition campaign largely organized by Blizzard -- and funded by Endeavor's business rival Stratus Properties. So yes, it's personal.)

Business and development interests have expressed fears that the aquifer ban, combined with the results of the city's study on the impact of big-box retail, will beget a citywide size cap on retail projects. The RECA e-mail concludes: "It is time to tell our City Council to STOP playing politics with the environment and to START focusing on policies that help create jobs and improve our local economy!"

Former Mayor Kirk Watson -- who as mayor was hailed by many for his efforts to preserve environmentally sensitive land and to limit development over the aquifer via the Smart Growth Initiative -- was named chair-elect of the Chamber of Commerce two days before the chamber joined RECA in assaulting the big-box ban. Watson says he wasn't aware of the chamber's memo until its release and suggested he might have taken a different tack on the matter. "I have not studied the big-box issue, but I think it's fair to say I am disappointed in the overall tenor of this discussion," he said. "I think the community in general, and the business community in particular, has been pretty clear that we can address issues concerning the aquifer differently than we address different parts of the city."

  • More of the Story

  • Naked City

    Headlines and happenings from Austin and beyond

    Naked City

    Austin Energy gives clean-energy advocates what they want -- and far more.

    Naked City

    Mother alleges district violated her murdered daughter's civil rights.
  • Naked City

    Hyde Park garage project set to go to court for the fifth time

    Naked City

    South Austin neighbors fear Blunn Creek's inevitable death-by-shopping.

    Naked City

    Three high-profile contenders for an open seat on the Travis Co. bench

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for almost 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

More Big Box
Bee Cave Mall Back on Fast Track?
Bee Cave Mall Back on Fast Track?
Developers try – quickly – to get reapproval for a controversial big-box project

Amy Smith, April 9, 2004

Austin @ Large: The Big-Box Big Deal
Austin @ Large: The Big-Box Big Deal
Little things mean a lot, but design standards aren't simply superficial

Mike Clark-Madison, April 2, 2004

More by Amy Smith
Well-Behaved? Let's Assume Not.
Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis: The Untold Story
Barbara Leaming's new biography makes the case that Jackie O suffered from PTSD

Nov. 28, 2014

Section 8 Reopens
Section 8 Reopens
Hurry up ... and wait!

Oct. 3, 2014


Big Box, big box ordinance, Real Estate Council of Austin, Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce, Mike Blizzard, RECA, Kirk Watson, Tim Taylor, Diana Zuniga

One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

New recipes and food news delivered Mondays

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle