Bitter Buzzing in Bee Cave

Local politicos, enviros sting each other over controversial mall project

What a wild couple of weeks it's been in the little Village of Bee Cave. A hot debate over a proposed retail project has evolved into a public sparring match, with elected officials airing conflicting opinions in one newspaper, the developer retracting his statements in another, and the Save Our Springs Alliance coming under attack in a lengthy essay titled "SOS Attacks!" Adding to the political strife is a May 15 election for the village's Board of Aldermen, which, depending on who wins or loses, could ultimately make or break the retail project.

Which is one reason why the current pro-development board is trying to get the thing settled before the election – even if it means pulling all-nighters to make that happen. That's what the village board did Tuesday before recording a dawn vote of 3-1 (one alderman left before the vote) to accept a proposed zoning change for the Shops at the Galleria, but only if developer Chris Milam can meet several conditions. Milam and financial partners Lincoln Property Co. want to build the 88-acre shopping center on state Highway 71 West, including a Lowe's Home Centers big box on the banks of Little Barton Creek. The project would serve as an extension, more or less, of another – larger and more upscale "lifestyle center" development, the Hill Country Galleria – that Milam intends to build across the street. Milam says he can't build one without the other, and Mayor Caroline Murphy and a majority of the board appear to agree. The SOS Alliance and neighborhood leaders say the development would create environmental and traffic safety hazards, and that village officials violated the state Open Meetings Act in their initial approval of the project in December. Based on those arguments, SOS managed to secure a court order in February to halt construction work on the site, pending a June 28 trial. For that reason, Milam resubmitted his zoning application to go through the process anew.

Meanwhile, community newspapers have been publishing the differing views of Alderwoman Marcy Holloway (who opposes the project) and Murphy and Mayor Pro Tem Zelda Auslander (who support the project). Auslander accused Holloway and SOS Alliance leaders of actively backing a slate of opposing candidates so that a new village board would be willing to fight the alliance's environmental battles in the courts. SOS executive director Bill Bunch responded, "No one here had anything to do with recruiting candidates to run for office in Bee Cave."

As for Milam, he issued a statement this week retracting a comment he made in last week's Chronicle ("Bee Cave Mall Back on Fast Track?"): "I indicated that Tim O'Connor of Direct Events was supportive of the [Shops at the Galleria] project," Milam wrote. "In fact, Mr. O'Connor is neutral regarding the project and our dispute with Save Our Springs Alliance." O'Connor owns the Backyard, the popular live music venue that would be nearly surrounded by Milam's development.

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