This morning, the Houston City Council is set to vote on a proposed "380 agreement" with developer Michael Ainbinder that would help him build a Walmart-anchored retail center near the Heights.
The agreement, posted on the city's Web site, is a huge step toward breaking ground on a Walmart that has been protested since it was first announced this summer. There's been a couple public meetings hosted by the city, and an anti-Walmart study was commissioned and released.
But the council vote actually matters. The city has defended the agreement, saying it's the only way to regulate the development and ensure infrastructure improvements to the site. The people against Walmart say "NO!" to the 380, because they don't want public tax dollars to help build something they desperately don't want.
We're sure it will be an animated council meeting, so to gear up for our coverage -- check back later today -- Hair Balls offers three other Walmart vs. Neighborhood fights.
1. Austin, 2006-present. An article in the Austin Chronicle said this: "One huge point of contention is that [the developer] has signed a lease with Wal-Mart as the anchor tenant; it plans to build a 24-hour, 219,629-square-foot Supercenter -- the largest store ever for Travis County, right next to homes in an established neighborhood." Sound familiar?
Residents of the north Austin neighborhood near the proposed Walmart site formed "Responsible Growth for Northcross" and eventually sued the city and developer on the grounds that no public hearings were held before the plans were approved.
The group's communications director, Jason Meeker, even ran for Austin City Council, campaigning on responsible development.
Result: A judge ruled in favor of Walmart and construction started -- set to open later this year -- but Walmart agreed to build a much smaller store that won't stay open 24 hours. Meeker lost his bid for city council.
2. Fairhope, Alabama. 2006-2007. Residents of this small town on the Eastern Shore of the Mobile Bay were outraged when they learned Walmart planned to build a 200,000-square-foot Supercenter a few miles from downtown.
After all, the residents had approved a Master Plan for Fairhope that capped retail development at 20,000-square-feet at any one location. But Walmart selected a site just outside of city limits, and the city said it didn't have the authority to stop the construction.
Residents formed "A Fair Hope of Success" as their anti-Walmart body, and among the protests was a human chain that the group hoped would set a Guinness Book of World Records record for the "longest-anti-Wal-Mart chain."
Result: The Walmart opened, as planned, in the summer of 2007.
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3. Helotes, Texas. 2004-2005. When Walmart selected this Hill Country site, home to the famed John T. Floore Country Store, it had to know a fight was coming.
Anti-Walmart residents formed the Helotes Heritage Association, claiming, among other things, that Walmart development would harm the endangered beetles, spiders and birds that call the area home.
Walmart continued with its plans, and county officials and nearby towns offered support without any jurisdiction. Helotes politicians, however, didn't seem to offer the same resistance, so residents voted all incumbents, including the mayor, out of office.
Result: Walmart withdrew its plans to build on the site.