A step closer to Wal-Mart in the Heights?

HOUSTON Neighbors have been fighting to keep it out. They're worried about traffic and drainage. Opponents also say it could hurt their property values. But the city is moving closer to sealing a deal with developers.

The city has drafted a 13-page agreement now on paper between the city of Houston and those who want to develop the Washington Heights project. It spells out how, if approved, the city would use more than $6 million in economic development funds to reimburse the developer, Ainbinder Heights, for infrastructure improvements around the site at Yale and Koehler streets.

"Do that on your own dollar," said Nicholas Urbano with Responsible Urban Development for Houston. "Don't take the public money to do it."

Even though those improvements could mean wider streets and sidewalks, upgraded landscaping, and a limestone walking path on Heights Boulevard, opponents say there are still significant issues of concern. Wal-Mart, they say, has historically not proven to be a good neighbor elsewhere.

"It's going to create a number of problems which have already been discussed in press; traffic, crime, drainage, just all kinds of disruption to the neighborhood's life," said Eileen Crowley Reed, who is opposed to the agreement.

The agreement on the table between the city and developers details the construction of water, sewer, drainage and road improvements, and claims the project will, "...bring additional sales tax and ad valorem tax revenues to the city..."

But members of the group 'Responsible Urban Development for Houston' say they've commissioned a study which says there will be no such economic benefit.

"There will not be any new net sales to the city of Houston," said Reed. "There will be sales cannibalized from other outlets."

As such, the group says it's opposed to giving taxpayer money to developers.

"As its been from the start, there's still a lot of questions to be answered," said Urbano.

Neither Wal-Mart nor developers were available for comment Sunday. Both have said publicly that they do intend to work with community and would be responsible builders. But it's not a done deal yet. Houston city council plans to vote on the proposal on Wednesday.

Opponents of the Wal-Mart plan have put together a group on Facebook. It has more than 5,000 members.

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