December 13, 2006
Northcross Wal-Mart on hold, sort of
Shortly after I posted this about the proposed Wal-Mart at the Northcross Mall in Austin, I received this link in my email.
Wal-Mart Stores Inc. is suspending action on a proposed store at Northcross Mall for 60 days.
Embroiled in opposition among neighborhood residents, Austin city officials announced that Wal-Mart Stores will gather more input from neighborhood residents. Northcross Mall's new owner Lincoln Property Co. was to redevelop part of the mall as part of the project.
A coalition of concerned citizens called Responsible Growth for Northcross formed to oppose the project and has voiced its concern to city officials in recent weeks.
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.
Martinez and other members of the council praised the decision, calling it a first step toward working together with community stakeholders.
"The mayor and council members worked together on this deal, and I want the residents of those neighborhoods to know that we hear their concerns loud and clear," Martinez says.
That sounds good, but to be sure, I gave Hope Morrison a call to ask her about it. And thanks to her, now I also have the following statement regarding this action from the Responsible Growth for Norcross
Responsible Growth for Northcross is glad that City Council members have tried to respond to our concerns. However, the Wal-Mart letter makes it clear that what is being proposed would have no effect on the Northcross Mall owner, Lincoln Property, which is responsible for the site plan. The supposed deal brokered by Council members in no way slows or stops progress on the Northcross Mall project, which is slated to begin on January 8.
Wal-Mart’s letter is a deliberate attempt to fool and manipulate the Council and the public, since Wal-Mart is not the property owner nor responsible for the site plan. Moreover, we have heard that Wal-Mart filed for a permit related to Northcross just today, despite the assurances in its letter that it would not undertake such action.
The City Council has the right and the duty to void the illegal site plan. Once the illegal site plan is voided, we will be glad to engage in a public development process with the city and Lincoln Property Company about the Northcross development.
Among other things, the site plan is illegal because it was approved by city staff administratively rather than going through a public hearing with the Zoning and Platting Commission (ZPC). Such a public hearing was required because the site plan includes a garden center which is not authorized under the current GR zoning. It would be up to the ZPC to decide whether a site plan was acceptable -- after public notice and a hearing.
We believe any action regarding the Northcross development should occur in a public context, not through private deal-making between the City and one of the tenants of the proposed development. RG4N calls upon the City to void the illegal site plan on Thursday during the public forum of the City Council meeting, and put all matters affecting this site into a very public process.
So there you have it. I'll look for new developments after tomorrow's Council meeting.
Posted by Charles Kuffner on December 13, 2006 to Bidness
I'm a little puzzled at this... the site is an existing shopping mall at the intersection of two major arterials. Arterials are actually good places for shopping -- they are well served by public transit and you don't dump more traffic on freeways. This isn't a "destination" store that will attract shoppers from all over the region; it will serve people who live within a few miles. Most everyone who lives in the neighborhood moved in when the land was already a shopping mall. What's so horrible about redeveloping a shopping mall as a shopping mall?
The Walmart planned for Northcross would be the second-largest retail store in all of Central Texas, larger even than Cabela's. It is designed to draw from a much larger radius that just the surrounding neighborhoods. It isn't just redesigning a small suburban mall as a small suburban mall. The traffic will totally overwhelm the area, as actual counts taken at other Walmarts by city staff this week underscore. A 24/7 supercenter is simply inappropriate for this site.
In addition, neighbors have an alternative vision, more aligned with the city's new model of urban redevelopment. Pedestrian-friendly, vertical mixed-use developments like the Triangle, Mueller and planned for Crestview Station are examples of this model.
In fact, as the city has planned over the past few years for growth along core transit corridors in the central city, Northcross was specifically discussed as ripe for that type of model. This model takes more time and money on the front end, but is more sustainable both as a profit maker for the developer and as an engine for positive neighborhood growth than is a supercenter and old-style mall model.
What happens at Northcross will dictate how our neighborhoods grow - or don't - in value and quality of life over the next 10-20 years. We want to see it done right, in a way that is good for the property owner and also good for the neighbors.
You are absolutely right; I have made many of the same points. It's on two major arterials with excellent transit access - which isn't possible on frontage roads.
Hope's pushing a plan which her neighborhood(s) would never really support. Keep that in mind; it's just a stalking horse. This supposed alternative vision of the neighbors isn't expressed anywhere in writing (or even on the internet) and is suspiciously recent - these same folks opposed many attempts to densify the area in the past.
I have lived 6 blocks from Northcross for 30 years. Most of my neighbors have been here for decades. We totally support the new urban models presented at the Dec 14 council meeting. We are totally against a Walmart of any kind. Everyone I have spoken with feels angry and betrayed at this undercover deal perpetrated by a council we elected. I don't know who these "folks" are that you speak of. The suspiciously recent alternative vision you speak of could have been in place in the beginning had the neighborhood been included in the process.
The "suspiciously recent" aspect is the fact that no such plans existed BEFORE Wal-Mart was revealed as the tenant, in the months-long period AFTER people knew Lincoln was redeveloping Northcross.
I think it is important to remember that many of the residents have been in this neighborhood for a very long time (long before walmart even thought of opening its first store in austin, even). Many of us have memories of times at Northcross- we went skating there as little kids, went to see movies, ate pizza with our friends. We never really thought of Northcross as going until we were forced to say "yes, it probably is time for this place of memories to go- it makes business sense". But I think many of us in the neighborhood keep in mind what Northcross used to be and what we want our neighborhood to look like going forward.
Also, residents in these neighborhoods seems to be reflecting the sentiment that we do want a community feel in a more urban/ closer to town environment. For many of the people that choose to move there, they have chosen to pay higher property values to be closer into town. In fact brentwood and allandale are seeing some of the development from the hyde park (and more recently rosedale) being pushed our way as property values became increasingly high in those other areas. I think the sentiment for many people is that if we are going to develop this property, we want to develop it in a way that improves the quality of life of the residents in the neighborhoods around.
If you look at the surveys taken up by the RG4N group, you will see a list of top, medium, and low priorities of approximately 3800 residents and business owners in the area. It indicates what their preferences are, and the plan that they came up with reflects these values. It provides a space that is pedestrian friendly(and believe me, I saw many people walking over for the rally, so I think it is fair to say that people would walk to this space), offers a gathering point for residents, provides a place where people can have good times and fond memories, a place that is not open 24 hours, and will excite the residents who live in the neighborhood in addition to people who live outside the neighborhood. Personally, I don't want just another place to shop. (And I don't want our president to tell me to not worry about the war and go out and shop more!)
Interestingly enough, the rosedale neighborhood recently saw the opening of a strip mall containing a couple of restaurants, a boutique, hair salon, etc. Everytime I drive by that place it is so BUSY! I think a lot of the neighborhood would like to see gathering points like that around. We chose to not live in suburbia for a reason....
On a side note, someone mentioned that WalMart was not a destination store. While I agree that it will not be attracting people from San Marcos or Round rock (heck, they have their own walmarts there), I would have to disagree and say that Walmart is most definitely a destination store (walmart knows this too, otherwise they wouldnt be interested in building a store with so much neighborhood opposition). People go there for lower prices, and to get a bunch of stuff taken care of at once. Only a few places allow you to buy your food, clothes, cleaning supplies, gift cards, etc. all in one place. People travel extra time to go to places like Walmart so that they can see lower prices and so that they can accomplish all of their shopping at one place. So to say that the area would not see increased traffic would be silly. Moreover, walmart is a place you drive to because you are generally buying many goods in this one-stop shopping mecca. This means that even the people from the neighborhood- if they chose to shop at walmart- would be driving their cars to a destination that they might not otherwise be driving too (either because it is not developed yet, or because when it does get developed it becomes a pedestrian friendly non-mega-center). No matter what, development of the northcross area WILL increase traffic on some very busy streets to some degree, but whether we can curtail some of that is the question and hope.