The first round of changes in the redevelopment plan for Northcross Mall was offered up by Lincoln Property Co. and Wal-Mart last week in response to neighborhood concerns. The adjustments to the mall redevelopment plan respond to a list of consensus neighborhood priorities, provided in a letter from five surrounding neighborhood associations and Responsible Growth for Northcross.
But in the view of RG4N leader Paige Hill, point by point the developer and megaretailer have offered up crumbs where RG4N is banging its fork for meat:
Wal-Mart offered to "reduce" the size of the enormous supercenter back to the originally proposed 219,000 square feet; RG4N is asking for the supercenter to be eliminated or radically downsized. All of the neighborhoods joined in requesting "a significantly smaller store."
Wal-Mart offered to add amenities, such as more landscaping, sidewalks, lighting, and awnings; RG4N and the neighborhoods are asking for the entire site plan to be reworked to conform with the city's commercial design and mixed-use standards, as a model of enlightened urban redevelopment.
Surrounding neighborhood associations joined RG4N in asking that the Wal-Mart significantly cut back its planned 24/7 hours of operation; Wal-Mart offered to close the store only from 1am-5am (like a nearby HEB).
The neighborhoods requested that the developer fund a new, comprehensive traffic impact study; Lincoln instead offered specific traffic improvements, such as a new turn lane.
The neighborhoods also requested a strong commitment to environmental sustainability, such as earning a three-, four-, or five-star Green Building Program rating; Wal-Mart and Lincoln have yet to make specific commitments.
Hill said that for many neighbors, the responses to their concerns are inadequate and called into question the effectiveness and good faith of the city's negotiation process with Lincoln and Wal-Mart. "This led us to really question the city's role," Hill said. "It's obvious that they're not doing what the neighborhoods asked not actively representing the citizens' viewpoint. Is the city not taking any side, or is it actively working for the developer?"
Assistant City Manager Laura Huffman said "the city's role in this is to make sure that the neighborhood's concerns are clearly understood and articulated to the developer. And then to make sure that the developer's responses are on point." At press time, she was still waiting on a written term sheet of commitments from the developer. "There's no question that the Wal-Mart has not been significantly reduced in size. But many of the other concerns on their priority list have been addressed. So our questions to the neighborhood are going to be, does this solution adequately speak to your interests and concern? We'll then loop back on which proposals need to be further addressed. At this point, we're midstream. It's too early to tell whether the process has been successful." Hill said that RG4N and the Allandale Neighborhood Association still plan to file a lawsuit against the city, which would include a request for a stop-work injunction from a judge.
Wal-Mart and Lincoln will hold a community open house on Monday, March 5, from 3-8pm at the Norris Conference Center at Northcross Mall. Huffman said the written term sheet and graphics will be available; city staff will be on hand to answer questions. "We're looking for feedback at the open house from the neighborhoods, on which of these changes you'd like to see memorialized," Huffman said. Those agreed upon will be amended into the site plans or enacted through restrictive covenants.