Heights Walmart: That Mysterious 380 Agreement Continues Being Mysterious

It's been about three weeks since we last wrote about the Heights Walmart and a possibility of a missing 380 application from developer Michael Ainbinder.

We still haven't gotten any clarification from the city about whereabouts of that application, if it does exist, or if the developer was even required to submit any documents prior to the city council's vote.

We imagined the 380 information would be readily available, considering the Walmart vote was one of the most publicized council actions this year and the Annise Parker administration prides itself on transparency. But it's been three weeks.

We've gotten quite a few explanations about the 380 application from various city employees, but nothing "on the record" that we've been able to confirm. It seems the city's legal department just needs more time to get all the documents together.

We contacted the Mayor's office today to get any new information, but we haven't heard back. So, we'll move on to the latest controversy surrounding the Heights Walmart development.

The folks over at Responsible Urban Development for Houston sent us some documents outlining inaccuracies between the city council's "Request for Council Action," the one-page document council members used to vote on the 380 agreement, and the actual 41-page 380 agreement between the city and Ainbinder.

Here are some of the inaccuracies, according to RUDH.

From the Request for Council Action:

The rebates will only reimburse the recipient for public infrastructure.

And the wording in the 380:

The City shall purchase the City Improvements from the Developer and reimburse the Developer for the Improvements Costs of the Detention Improvements by paying the Total Payment Amount to the Developer no later than the fifteen month anniversary of the Operation Date.

RUDH is upset with this because the city is paying for improvements -- specifically drainage improvements -- to the Walmart development and not, as stated in the request for council acition, to public infrastructure.

"Right now, [the proposed site] is grass. When they come in and build the store, all their water has to go somewhere," Colton Candler, a representative with RUDH, tells Hair Balls. "This developer, and all developers, should be required to pay for their own drainage issues."

From the request for action:

The rebates will be equal to the incremental increases in Taxes in the economic impact area from the base year (year prior to commencement) and a pre-determined time period stipulated in each development agreement.

RUDH argues that this is wrong: "There is no pre-determined time period stipulation -- the Agreement is open-ended."

We're not sure about this one, because the 380 says that payment will be issued to the developer no later than the 15-month anniversary of the "Operation Date."

From the request for action:

The Developer will...upgrade the landscaping beyond the minimum COH landscape requirements.

RUDH has a problem with this one because it does not fully explain what the 380 agreement says. The 380 outlines specifics on feet and inches requirements for new sidewalks and trees. UPDATE: The "specifics" do, in fact, leave a lot of room for interpretation. The 380 says the sidewalks must be wider than 4 feet, and the trees must be larger in caliper than 1.5 inches.

These are just a few examples, and while they might not seem like egregious errors, the main complaint from RUDH is the city council was given a shoddy summary of the 380 to vote upon. The group sent letters to council members, but says only Stephen Costello has responded, and he "did not contest the inaccuracy of the [Request for Council Action]."

From one of the letters, to council member Ed Gonzalez:

We are concerned that the Mayor's top staff members have provided incorrect information to council members -- and this information informed their critical votes. This is a serious concern to the public and we are bringing it to your attention so that action can be taken to ensure these staff members are held accountable.

Costello tells Hair Balls that he read the entire actual 380 agreement and not the Request for Action. He isn't sure if inaccuracies exist, but he says he feels comfortable with the wording in the 380.

"I can't speak for other council members, but I assume they took the same approach as I did to get as much information as possible," Costello says. "There's obviously a lot of opposition to the development, but I'm comfortable with the plan."

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