Heights Walmart: Lots Of Questions, Few Answers At Meeting

Even though it's not yet been signed and delivered, Heights residents are already trying to figure out how to deal with the possibility that a big-box monster might be moving in next door.

Residents spoke at the Greater Heights Super Neighborhood Council meeting Tuesday about their objection to Walmart, and as to what solutions, remedies or actions they could take as a community to stop, or at least control, the development.

The process, not to mention the looming development, remain unclear but what is crystal clear is that everyone at the meeting felt that they are better off without it. Everyone, though, left with more questions than answers.

"Our understanding is that the developer (Ainbinder) is currently in negotiations with Walmart to purchase a piece of that large development to use for Walmart," councilmember Ed Gonzalez's Chief of Staff Jesse Dickerman said. "The number we have heard is 24 acres, 15 of which would go to Walmart,

"The developer has expressed to us, has expressed to a number of the community members we brought into the meetings that they absolutely do not intend for this to be a big-box superstore -- what it's going to be, we don't know, we haven't seen a plan."

The debate at the meeting wasn't about objecting to Walmart, that much is certain. The debate lies only in how to fight it.

One opinion is that it's inevitable, and they must accept the realization that they can't stop the corporate steamroller, and, as much as they should try to stop it, they should expend just as much energy trying to get every improvement they can for the community.

"If we can get them to improve the roads," one resident said, "get some new drainage, let's try to get as much out of them as we can, because they're coming, but if we can get something out of them, that's the best thing to do,"

"He [councilmember Gonzalez] wants to see what this development is going to look like...but we fully expect this to be a give and take," Dickerman said.

Others don't even want to give Walmart and Ainbinder a chance for this give and take. They want to take a proactive stance to stop the development completely. 

"Some of us aren't willing to make concessions," resident Joe Davis said. "We just don't want Walmart at all -- what avenue should we take to stop whatever type of retail shop they want to put in our neighborhood?"

We're going to have to wait and see what the development looks like before any judgments about traffic and drainage can be made, Dickerman said, and as how to deal with these questions once it is a done deal.

This was not what they wanted to hear. Heights residents aren't interested in seeing what it would look like once the plans are finished. They want to stop those drawings from even being rendered. They wanted to know where to go, who to talk to, what meetings they could sit in on, and how to effect public change to stop a private one.

A major concern is if the area's infrastructure and streets can handle the increased traffic and potential for flooding in the area.

Also, crime and safety is a big issue. Residents are concerned the streets won't be safe with the increased traffic flow, both in the amount of cars zooming through the small streets and the increased number of people coming into the area. More people equals an increased risk for crime and traffic related incidents.

"We live in the Woodland Heights, and since Target has been there, whether this is because of Target or whatever else, the crime in the Heights has gone quite high," resident Jennifer Jordan said. "It seems odd that it seems to coincide that there's a huge amount of break-ins now that weren't there before. I fear that Walmart or another equally minded box-store, in that regard, is going to make it even worse, and I've pretty much had it with that, and the lack of response as far as crime goes. I know they're doing traffic studies, but I hope they're doing some sort of crime impact studies as well."

Of course, an overarching concern is preserving the Heights culture. After all, it is one of the strongholds of originality and historical significance in the Houston area. Residents don't want their area to be the abject center of commercialism and corporate aggrandizing.

"I went through the effort of selecting a home inside the loop, inside this area, to avoid the cookie-cutter retail, parking, all these strip-malls that are coming to me right now," Davis said. "The Heights is a cultural center of Houston that is going to get destroyed by something like this."

Resident Austin Cooley wants to make sure that Walmart isn't getting any help from the city, either.

"How do we make sure the city isn't paying for infrastructure, in other words, paying Walmart to move in here and turn the drain on our tax dollars in the city of Houston," Austin Cooley said. "Is there any transparency in the discussions going on?

"Walmart shouldn't be offered anything free by the city. We should not be subsidizing this money train that is ultimately going to destroy our culture in the Heights."

Although much remains uncertain at this point, one thing is for sure: Walmart and Ainbinder better start talking to this community, and they better start now.

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