The Austin Chronicle

Northcross: 'It's Not a Done Deal'

By Lee Nichols, July 27, 2007, News

Lest anyone try to brand Responsible Growth for Northcross as a small band of the self-appointed, take note: They have a pretty big constituency. That was evident July 18, when 200 people turned out at a community meeting at the First Unitarian Univer­sal­ist Church called by RG4N to discuss its lawsuit against Lincoln Property Co. (and really, it's been evident ever since the group gathered enough supporters to completely encircle the Northcross Mall block back in February). Anyone who's ever tried any community organizing knows that 200 people on a Wed­nes­day night is pretty impressive.

The two major bits of news to come out of the meeting are that RG4N's lawsuit will likely be combined with a similar one by the Allandale Neighborhood Association and that the demolition currently under way on the former Northcross Mall site does not signify that the planned Wal-Mart Supercenter is a foregone conclusion -- which led to chants of, "It's not a done deal!"

Attorney Doug Young of Scanlan, Buckle & Young told the crowd that the suit centers around four claims: 1) The city failed to enforce an existing plat note protecting Shoal Creek and requiring compliance with a regional drainage plan; 2) the city failed to ensure compliance with traffic and public-safety provisions (RG4N feels certain that the increased traffic to the Wal-Mart would pose a threat to public safety); 3) the city did not follow the required approval process (RG4N says Wal-Mart's proposed garden center requires a conditional-use permit, which would trigger a public review process); and 4) the city has not adequately enforced its own tree-protection ordinance, as the Lincoln site plan would require the removal of several mature trees. Young also pointed out that, while the group's efforts include a letter-writing campaign to Wal-Mart to encourage the company to cancel its plans, the Bentonville beast is not actually a party to the suit.

Paige Hill, a board member and past president of RG4N (wow, the group has been around long enough to have a past president?), used a PowerPoint presentation to show that the demolition occurring on the east side of the mall is only the first part of Lincoln's plan -- and followed that with a slide showing that the proposed supercenter will be on the west side and will be huge in comparison.

The meeting also included a discussion of protest tactics, including one that could be highly controversial. Former City Council Mem­ber Brigid Shea tried to rally support for a "Drive Away Wal-Mart" action, flooding the Burnet Road and Anderson intersection with 8,000-9,000 automobiles to demonstrate that Lincoln's assertion that the project would not worsen traffic in the area is incorrect.

Jason Meek­er, RG4N's communications chair, concluded the meeting with a call to make this a campaign issue with the council (three seats will be contested next spring) and noted that City Manager Toby Futrell is retiring -- drawing loud applause from the crowd, reflecting frustration at city staff pronouncements that its hands are tied in dealing with Lincoln.

Meeker quoted Council Member Brewster McCracken from the July 13 Chronicle, regarding similar development conflicts that might crop up in the future: "We're also working through what I'd loosely call the lessons learned from Northcross -- what did we learn about our land development code when it comes to major redevelopment sites?"

In an exasperated voice, Meeker replied, "I'd like to know!"

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