Wal-Mart Ready for Round 2?

City approves another big-box site plan for the MoPac-and-Slaughter site

Wal-Mart's decision last year to yank its incendiary plans to build a supersized big box over the aquifer provided only a temporary lull in one of the largest and most successful environmental mobilization efforts in recent years. Get ready for Round Two.

City staff on March 31 approved a modified site plan for the property at MoPac and Slaughter, paving the way for a Wal-Mart Supercenter or any other big-box development. City planner Kathy Haught said the property owner, SR Ridge Limited Partnership, has resolved the problems associated with setbacks from critical environmental features. "They're complying with what we've asked them to comply with," she said.

The owner of the tract, James Monahan, is authorized to develop his property under less stringent water-quality regulations under the terms of a 1996 settlement agreement between the city and the landowner. Now, he's suing the city a second time, claiming officials failed to uphold the settlement agreement when they actively sought to divert Wal-Mart away from the aquifer, thus causing him to take a financial hit. In any case, the incident apparently stiffened Monahan's resolve to build out his property, as he wasted little time resubmitting a site plan application.

A big concern now is whether Wal-Mart would want to return to the scene of the 2003 battle. The retailer's Austin attorney, Richard Suttle, was circumspect: "I am not aware of Wal-Mart showing any interest in the site," he said. But Save Our Springs Alliance deputy director Brad Rockwell said he wouldn't be surprised to see Wal-Mart return to the aquifer. "There was much celebration when Wal-Mart ... backed out of this development," he said. "Now that the site plan has been approved, it seems very possible that Wal-Mart may come back and decide to build a gargantuan Supercenter at MoPac and Slaughter Lane."

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