New information in Walmart Heights battle

August 25, 2010 4:55:13 PM PDT
We have an update on the ongoing battle to stop a Walmart from coming to The Heights. Both sides are ramping up their efforts and for the first time, we are getting a look at the proposed plans for the site. The Walmart is set to go in near I-10 and Yale in The Heights. And the push to stop it has been gaining momentum for weeks now. A big crowd is expected Wednesday night when the general public gets its first chance to see what the Walmart is supposed to look like. The meeting is to be held tonight at the George R. Brown Convention Center, Room 370 at 6:30pm.

The Walmart proposed to be built near Koehler Street and Tale would lie on 15 of 24 acres there. Developer Ainbiner released artists renderings Wednesday afternoon.

"The Walmart doesn't look like the old Walmart. It's greatly enhanced architecturally," said Bart Duckworth of Ainbinder.

Walmart would be one of several businesses built on what is now vacant land, in would become known as Washington Heights.

"We hope that when they see our plans that they will see we are responsible developers, that we can bring something here they can be proud of and that they would shop at," Duckworth said.

However, opponents fear the businesses will attract crime, congest traffic, and decrease the overall quality of life.

"You can make it look as pretty as you want it to look, but ultimately there are problems with the development itself," said Nicholas Urbano of Responsible Urban Development for Houston.

Urbano and the group have ramped up efforts to kill the project.

"If taxpayer dollars are involved, then the taxpayer has a say," Urbano said.

There may be taxpayer money involved. The developer has asked to be reimbursed for infrastructure improvements near the site - things like upgraded landscaping , wider streets and sidewalks and a limestone walking path on Heights Boulevard.

Ainbiner and the city are negotiating a deal, in a type of agreement the city of Houston has done only a handful of times before, in this case earmarking $6 million in city economic development funds to repay the developer for those upgrades.

Mayor Annise Parker says that gives the city leverage.

"To give us something to bring developers to the table, to get what we want for the citizens of Houston," said Mayor Parker.

Walmart says it simply wants to work with the community.

The city and developers are still negotiating terms of that deal for the $6 million. Developers say the project will proceed with or without the money.

Walmart did it in Chicago, Baltmore and other cities and now the company has started WalmartHouston.com to help raise support for the new Houston store.

The website has a place to go to send your questions. You can also sign up to get e-mails about store meetings and updates with the building. The site also features an online petition, where people who support the store can sign up.


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