Battle over Heights Wal-Mart continues

HOUSTON City Council is poised to pass an agreement on Wednesday between the city and the developer that would offer economic incentives to the developer. For the people who don't want the Wal-Mart in their backyard, they say they are frustrated by the lack of information coming from their elected officials.

Dressed in red, the opponents of the proposed Wal-Mart development took one last shot at changing minds at City Hall.

"We've been frustrated with the process. The process hasn't been entirely transparent," said Nick Urbano.

Since the proposed mix-used development for a stretch of land along I-10 and Yale became public a few months ago, the city has maintained it's only been in discussion with developer Ainbinder since this spring. But anti-Wal-Mart activists say the city's involvement goes back much farther.

"TxDOT documents that I obtained in an open record request have revealed that Mr. Aiken has known of Ainbinder's intent to develop the land as far back as April 2007," said Jeffrey Jackson.

In fact, the records from the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) show the city's Chief Development Officer Andy Icken has been in communication with Ainbinder since 2007 when mayor Bill White was still in office.

The paper trail does not mention Wal-Mart, but it does show discussions about access road along I-10 and buying additional land to make the large development feasible.

"This all starts with the federal government and TxDOT money putting an exit at Yale," said Jonathan C.C. Day.

The Wal-Mart development wouldn't make economic sense unless Yale street had access to I-10, and that's exactly what TxDOT is doing. It's not something that happened overnight; the expansion project of I-10 was more than 10 years in the making.

Federal stimulus dollars are already paying for the building of the feeder roads along I-10. If City Council votes to approve a 380-agreement between the city and Ainbinder on Wednesday, the proposed Wal-Mart and other stores are one step closer to reality.

"It's not a done deal until it's a done deal," said Karen Derr.

City staffers told us the TxDOT documents from 2007 are unrelated to the current project. We want to confirm that information, but our requests for emails between Wal-Mart, Ainbinder and the city have so far been rejected.

Wal-Mart is rallying for support online. There is a website where you can get emails about store meetings and building updates. There is also an online petition for people who want the Heights Wal-Mart to be built.

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