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Council Vote Means Improvements To Walmart Site

Houston City Council is to vote this morning on an agreement for infrastructure changes in the Heights neighborhood where a Walmart supercenter is to be built. During the public session yesterday, Mayor Annise Parker and council heard opinions concerning the project. Pat Hernandez has the story.


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Council is set to vote on a proposed “380 agreement” with developer Michael Ainbinder that would help him build a Walmart in the Washington Heights. The agreement is a huge step toward breaking ground on a Walmart anchored
retail center that has been the subject of  protests from neighborhood residents since it was first announced this summer.
Opponents of the deal showed up in force at yesterday’s public session at Houston city hall. Nick Urbano is with the non-profit Responsible Urban Development Houston.

“RUDH took the last couple of weeks to compile a very, very complete list of community feedback. It’s what the mayor had been asking for, and we gave our own development recommendations for making it a development that could be acceptable to the community. But everything that we’ve seen doesn’t give the public much, so sure incentives the program, but make sure that it’s gonna benefit everybody.”

The city has defended the agreement, saying it is the only way to regulate the development and ensure infrastructure improvements to the site. Attorney Jonathan Day studied the proposed agreement. He says he hopes the city has too.

“I think a lot of people don’t understand that the role the government plays in the Walmart’s business is an important one, and we’re a little uncomfortable playing that role in Walmart’s business.  And number two, if the city is determined that it must play that role, they should be very careful about the contract and its provisions, and what exactly the developer agrees to do, because this agreement is with the developer not with the retail tenant, and what the city can do if the developer does not fulfill its agreements.”

Mayor Annise Parker says she expected more people to show up to speak their mind. She knows councilmembers have a lot to consider, but has confidence in Ainbinder the developer.

“The developer didn’t come to us and say ‘hey, I want tax dollars,’ or ‘I’d like to do all these things if you’ll reimburse me.’ The developer came in and said, ‘we’re doing this project,’ and we at the city said, ‘hold up, maybe there’s a mutual benefit here.’ We’d like to use some of your money to do some street work, some bridge work, things in the neighborhood, and we’ll pay you back over time. What’s gonna happen if we vote it down, that the project will go ahead, but the jogging trails won’t happen, the street repairs won’t happen and the bridge work won’t happen.”

Council delayed a vote on the “380-agreement” last week, but is expected to decide today. Parker says a yes vote will mean about 6-million dollars of developer money will be spent around the project.