D-Day for Taco Xpress Deal

Walgreens / Maria's plan goes to City Council

A Walgreens proposal to build a drive-through drugstore in a funky South Austin neighborhood returns to the City Council today (Thursday) as a born-again plan that features the queen of funk herself, Maria Corbalan, of Maria's Taco Xpress fame.

The pending marriage of a major drug-store chain and a homegrown hole-in-the-wall is, at first blush, a match made in heaven: Walgreens would build a new store at Lamar and Bluebonnet Lane, and bankroll the construction of a new Taco Xpress next door to its current location. In fact, the match was born more out of necessity than love; this marks Walgreens' second trip before the council, which last year sided with neighborhood opposition and sent the drugstore's developers back to the drawing board.

The revised Walgreens/Taco Xpress concept is wildly popular among Maria's patrons and supporters because it effectively seals the taco joint's future as a South Lamar icon. Any other development scenario on the property could have spelled the end of the road for the restaurant. That threat nearly materialized during the recent boom era, when Trammell Crow wanted to buy the property to build high-end apartments.

But faced with the prospect of a retail box, a residential development looks all the more appealing to the South Lamar Neighborhood Association. President Kevin Lewis says it wasn't the neighborhood that killed the Trammell Crow deal; it was the fact that Maria's would have been forced to leave the property. "The [residential] proposal never got to us," Lewis said. "It's hard to second-guess what would have happened [if the proposal had come to an SLNA vote], but we would have certainly wanted Maria's to be looked after."

Now the neighborhood group is in the uncomfortable position of opposing a plan that has Maria's written all over it. "For us, the focus has always been about Walgreens, and it still is," Lewis said, adding that the overall store design and the traffic impact on Bluebonnet Lane are what led to SLNA's rejection of the deal. "This is an inappropriate site for a suburban-style, single-use commercial project," Lewis said.

Another downer, Lewis pointed out, is that the SLNA, along with three other neighborhood associations – Galindo, Barton Hills, and Zilker (which also rejected the Walgreens proposal) – are set to begin their neighborhood planning process with the city this fall. "What Walgreens did was a perfectly pragmatic move," Lewis said, "but this is a perfect example of why we need comprehensive planning instead of piecemeal spot-planning."

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Walgreens, Maria's Taco Xpress, Maria Corbalan, Kevin Lewis, South Lamar Neighborhood Association, Trammell Crow, Zilker, Galindo, Barton Hills

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