Naked City

Boxed out

Despite warnings of dire economic consequences, the City Council last week stood united on a big-box ordinance, voting 7-0 to keep mega-retail developments out of the Barton Springs zone of the Edwards Aquifer. The action was opposed by business and development interests -- namely the Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce, the Real Estate Council of Austin, and the Statesman editorial board, but only RECA's Tim Taylor spoke against the measure prior to the council's vote.

At city staff's recommendation, the council approved the ordinance as a Barton Springs Zoning Overlay District and exempted those tracts with existing settlement agreements in place. That exemption, the staff pointed out, includes the Maple Run tract (aka the Monaghan tract) at MoPac and Slaughter, the former battleground of a nixed Wal-Mart Supercenter. Since Wal-Mart's departure, the landowner has sued the city and another nearby landowner, Stratus Properties, claiming the two conspired to force the retailer off of the property, costing the landowner a sizable sum of money due to the lost sale. Depending on the outcome of the lawsuit, the site could provide the stage for another battle over big-box development.

As approved, the ban would limit stand-alone retail stores to 50,000 square feet and groceries to 100,000 square feet. The Save Our Springs Alliance and the Sierra Club supported the proposal but asked the council to reduce the limit for grocery stores. Pat Murphy, of the city's Watershed Protection and Development Review Department, told council members that at least 20 tracts in the affected area could handle a development in excess of 50,000 square feet.

Council Member Daryl Slusher, the lead sponsor of the ordinance, pointed to a city map to show that there are still vast areas available in Austin that are better suited for big-box developments. "And that's consistent with around 30 years of city policy ... to steer intensive development into these areas here," he said, pointing to desired development areas of the map.

The ordinance goes into effect immediately following the expiration Wednesday of a moratorium on big-box development over the aquifer.

Got something to say? The Chronicle welcomes opinion pieces on any topic from the community. Submit yours now at

  • More of the Story

  • Naked City

    News briefs from Austin, the region, and elsewhere.

    Naked City

    Wal-Mart and South River City Citizens deal to preserve Blunn Creek.

    Naked City

    Federal judge Sam Sparks rules in favor of Lacresha Murray lawsuit against Travis Co. DA's office.
  • Naked City

    The Texas Campaign for the Environment uncovers an illegal computer dump in Northeast Austin.

    Naked City

    Steve Wolens and Teel Bivins join the queue exiting the Legislature.

    Naked City

    The FBI continues to use the RAVE Act as a bludgeon against drug-reform activists.

    Naked City

    Texas A&M decides to avoid affirmative action in admissions, raising ire from minority lawmakers.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for over 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 by Amy Smith
The Work Matters
The Work Matters
A look back at some of our most impactful reporting

Sept. 3, 2021

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

One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Keep up with happenings around town

Kevin Curtin's bimonthly cannabis musings

Austin's queerest news and events

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)

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