What Happened At The Meeting

Posted Mon, 04/12/2010 - 12:01am

From the Austin Chronicle of March 26, 2010

Wal-Mart, RG4N
From enemies to frenemies
BY LEE NICHOLS

Yes, there's still going to be a Wal-Mart on the site of the former Northcross Mall. In fact, it's under construction right now. And no, resentment from the surrounding neighborhoods hasn't gone away. Wal-Mart representatives met with about 40 members of Responsible Growth for Northcross (RG4N) earlier this month to update them on the status of the project. Among the major messages delivered:

• The store will be closed to customers 1-5am, though employees will be working inside 24 hours a day. However, the store might stay open all night on holidays, and "if a competitor within a 2-mile radius goes 24 hours, we reserve the right to go to 24 hours," said Joe Grasso of the Doucet & Associates engineering firm, speaking for Wal-Mart.

• Wal-Mart will transplant 16 trees of 11-15 inches in diameter onto the
property, along with about 100 smaller ones.

• Wal-Mart's delivery trucks will approach the store from I-35, up Highway 183, and then onto Burnet – not from noncommercial streets. However, no guarantees could be made that non-Wal-Mart trucks making deliveries would
follow the same policy.

On that latter point, one person in the audience said, "[That] is why we didn't want you in the neighborhood." Complaints could be taken up with the store manager, the reps said, as well as any concerns about crime associated with the site. "The store manager will answer the phone," assured the representatives. Neighbors weren't completely convinced, but they seemed at least to appreciate answers.

"The gist of all this tonight is we can't concentrate on just square footage," said Jason Meeker, communications director of RG4N, referring to Wal-Mart's decision in 2008 to cut the proposed store size from a typical 200,000-square-foot Supercenter to about half that. (Wal-Mart first announced its plans to build back in 2006.) "It's all about the impact," Meeker said. "And the same concerns that were addressed early on are the concerns you heard tonight, about the people who will live here. It sounds to me like Wal-Mart is going to listen and hopefully provide solid answers, which are even more important now, because the store is not planned and possible; it's coming.

"And with the traffic problems that are still here and still real, and with the higher crime rate in these neighborhoods now, it's incumbent upon Wal-Mart to get out in front of it," Meeker continued. "That's the only thing I heard tonight that I didn't like – I didn't like hearing that if there's a problem with crime, talk to the general manager."