January 06, 2007
Northcross moratorium broken

Last month, the developer that's building a controversial WalMart in Austin said it would suspend activity on the site for 60 days so it could gather more input from the neighborhood, presumably including the vocal opponents of their project. On Thursday those opponents alleged that the developer reneged on its promise.

Neighbors of Northcross Mall say the company that owns the mall, Lincoln Properties, has violated the spirit of an agreement reached by the company and the City of Austin. Members of Responsible Growth for Northcross say they believed the company had promised to stop all development activities associated with plans for a new Wal Mart at the mall for at least 60 days. Jason Meeker with the neighborhood group says they learned this week that there has been communication between the city's permits office and Lincloln Properties about the building permit for the site.

"Why is there development activity continuing? There were apparently some legal qualifiers that allowed for some activity to continue," said Meeker.

The document announcing the agreement on December 14th shows that Lincoln Properties actually did not pledge to stop all development activities. Instead, the company agreed not to apply for a structural demolition permit, and so far has apparently kept that pledge.

Nonetheless, Meeker says, the company has not lived up to its commitment to meet with neighbors to discuss the project. "We've had no contact, as a group, with Lincoln Properties," he said, noting that more than 20 days have passed since the December 14th notice. "Our hope was that this entire time frame would be used to gather input. We're talking about not just our organization, but thousands of residents around the Northcross development area."

The original Austin Business Journal story said the following:

In a letter to City Council Member Mike Martinez, Wal-Mart committed to a 60-day self-imposed moratorium on development of the site and filing permit applications with the city.

On its site, RG4N claims Austin City Council intended to hold Lincoln Properties to its pledge. I'd say there's been a communications breakdown somewhere along the line. I've got a press release from RG4N beneath the fold, so click on for more.

Press release from Responsible Growth for Northcross:

AUSTIN, Texas, Jan. 4, 2007 ‹ Lincoln Property Company is actively moving forward with its plans to build a 220,000 sq. ft. Wal-Mart Supercenter at Northcross Mall, despite making an agreement with the City of Austin on December 14, 2006 to suspend activities at the Wal-Mart site for 60 days.

Although the agreement was publicly announced by the City of Austin to have Lincoln stop development in order to gather input from neighborhood residents, Responsible Growth for Northcross has learned that the City and Lincoln Property Company have continued the building permit process.

A City Council statement on Dec. 14, 2006 states: "In an email to Council Member Leffingwell today, Lincoln ­ Northcross Ltd. has committed to a 60 day self-imposed suspension on the filing of the structural demolition permit with the City that would be necessary to move the project forward. The suspension will allow for greater input from neighborhood residents."

³On Dec. 19, 2006, Lincoln filed an update on its original building permit. On approximately Dec. 28, the City of Austin responded with comments to the permit application. The process is still underway despite commitments from Lincoln and the City Council that the project would be put on hold to allow for neighborhood concerns to be addressed,² says Hope Morrison, vice president of Responsible Growth for Northcross.

Responsible Growth for Northcross calls upon Lincoln Property Company to honor its commitment to the citizens of Austin to stop development for 60 days. Furthermore, Responsible Growth for Northcross asks Lincoln Property Company to publicly explain why it broke its word. Responsible Growth for Northcross also calls upon the City of Austin to reset the clock and require a true 60 days suspension of development activity.

Breaking the 60 day suspension pledge shows that Lincoln's so-called commitment to the City Council is nothing more than a charade intended to cool the political heat and divert public attention. In addition, continuing the development process before Austin city staff could even begin the negotiations between Lincoln and the representatives of the thousands of stakeholders in the neighborhoods is a slap in the face to the City Council, city staff, the citizens of Austin, and all the neighborhoods surrounding Northcross Mall. This shows Lincoln Property Company is not operating in good faith with the city or the public.

On Jan. 3, 2007, Austin city staff convened a meeting with Responsible Growth for Northcross and other representatives from neighborhoods surrounding Northcross Mall to begin the process of facilitating negotiations between neighborhood stakeholders and Lincoln Property Company.
Responsible Growth for Northcross publicly thanks the City of Austin for its attempt to foster negotiation, but asks for Lincoln Property Company to be held to its commitments immediately.

About Responsible Growth for Northcross: Responsible Growth for Northcross is a group of citizens from the Allandale, Brentwood, Crestview, North Shoal Creek, Rosedale and Wooten neighborhoods that are fighting to stop development of the 220,000 sq. ft. 24-Hour Wal-Mart Supercenter at Northcross Mall. Responsible Growth for Northcross is working to develop a mutually beneficial, growth-oriented solution for Northcross Mall that serves the character and needs of the surrounding neighborhoods while also ensuring a successful endeavor for Lincoln Property Company and all concerned.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on January 06, 2007 to Bidness | TrackBack

Opinions obviously differ on whether Lincoln/Wal-Mart broke their pledge. The pledge I recall (and the one the Chronicle refers to) is to avoid "development activities", which to me means knocking down buildings/moving around bulldozers.

Also, the RG4N group is attempting a slimy money-grab from the Allandale Neighborhood Association -- true political theatre at its finest - having registered a bunch of new members in order to force a general membership meeting at which they want a vote on an ANA "contribution" to RG4N (originally, probably still, at the expense of ANA's traditional school donation).

Posted by: M1EK on January 7, 2007 10:13 AM