Wal-Mart debate gets heated at public meeting
HOUSTON While the city, developer and Wal-Mart representatives all spoke, it didn't seem to change the bottom line for most of the people there. The crowd heard from Mayor Annise Parker and the city. "It's been clear to us since the old Ironworks closed that this site would be developed," Mayor Parker said. Local developer Ainbinder says the project will be an improvement over what currently exists on the land. And Wal-Mart says it will bring jobs and lower prices to the area, even if you don't shop there. But nothing seemed to sell this crowd. "This feels like lip service and it's not what we want," one Heights resident said. They are concerned about everything from traffic to crime and quality of life. "They will not be good road mates is the best way I can put it, and you can't put 10 pounds of sugar in a 5-pound bag," another resident said. "This is one of the wealthiest corporations in the world coming into a city that's strapped for cash, and I don't think that the taxpayers in the neighborhood ought to have to pay," a third resident said. Mayor Parker says the city has no control over what tenant ends up at that location, but adds they can at least have some input regarding infrastructure and improvements if Houston City Council approves a 380 agreement. The developers are reimbursed over time with a portion of tax revenues generated if they agree to certain parameters. In this case, planting so many trees and of a certain size, wider sidewalks and street improvements are among the options being discussed. "The only reason we suggested the 380 agreement is to bring them to the table and say, hey, while you're doing this, let's make some improvements," Parker said. Some are asking the city to decline that agreement, hoping it might chase Wal-Mart away. "The issue we have is the fact that our taxpayer money is going to go to something that we do not want," a Heights resident said. But the developer says they will go through with the project, whether the city offers an incentive agreement. There are still several steps in the permit process, and City Council would have to approve that 380 agreement, but if it goes through, groundbreaking could be by the end of the year with completion in about 18 months. The Heights Wal-Mart is just one of two planned for Houston. The other is on I-10 at Silber. Those plans have been finalized and construction is set to begin in a few weeks.
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