Heights-Area Walmart Gets its Public Hearing

walmart vote.jpg
The mayor says the Walmart vote can't be delayed any longer; City Council must decide tomorrow.
The public had its last chance today to talk to the mayor and city council members about a proposed "380 agreement" between the city and developer Michael Ainbinder, who plans to build a Walmart near the Heights.

Not everyone who spoke at today's council meeting wants the city to vote "No." One older gentleman, for example, who said he helped get lights on bridges in the Heights years ago, asked the council to consider all the retired people in the area that need cheap groceries.

"These snobs that have moved to the Heights in the last ten years think it's fashionable to be anti-Walmart," the man said. "I hope y'all consider us old folks."

But that was short lived, because a young attorney spoke next, beginning his speech with, "I rise before City Council to oppose Walmart..."

And that was the general sentiment.

The issue at hand, the same as it has been since the beginning, is whether the city should enter into an agreement with the developer that would reimburse him with future property tax dollars -- up to $6 million -- for the money spent on infrastructure improvements surrounding the site.

Mayor Annise Parker favors the agreement, saying it's the only tool the city has to regulate how Ainbinder builds, and Heights residents don't want the 380, saying public money shouldn't be used to help build a Walmart.

Since news broke about the proposed Walmart, the people that oppose it seem to have come to terms with the fact that Ainbinder will build despite the 380 agreement, and many of the people who spoke to the council today asked that the vote simply be delayed one more week so the city could shore up its contract with Ainbinder.

Attorney Jonathan Day, for instance, said he reviewed the contract and believes it is worded so that Ainbinder wouldn't necessary have to live up to any of the city's requests, which include things like wider sidewalks, more trees and improved bridges.

In fact, the actual 380 agreement says the improvements "may be modified by the Developer at any time to modify, add, or remove Improvements."

Wording like that concerns some people.

But Parker told the council and everyone else that the city has no more time, and if a council member tries to tag the vote, which would delay it another week, she will attempt to overrule the tag.

Parker said that Ainbinder has issued a "hard deadline" because of financing arrangements, and if there isn't a vote tomorrow, he will apparently move forward on construction without the 380 agreement.

If the public is to believe that Ainbinder and Walmart will be good neighbors, like we've heard over and over, a "hard deadline" seems like a bad start, but, regardless, a vote should happen tomorrow.

So, when a speaker asked to delay the vote, City Council member Melissa Noriega would say, basically, "If I have to vote tomorrow, how would you like me to vote?"

Each speaker, except the president of the West End Civic Club, asked her to vote "No."

And for the first time, at least that we've seen, a few other council members, like Jolanda Jones and C.O. Bradford, seemed to question the merits of approving the 380 agreement.

We'd be shocked if it doesn't pass, but Hair Balls will definitely be at the meeting tomorrow morning to cover the vote.

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