Austin: No Wal*Mart at Northcross.

December 2nd, 2006

Here’s a community issue that my wife has rightly encouraged me to rant about. Wal-Mart wants to build a new supercenter — the largest in the area — on the site of the current Northcross Mall. Now, economic redevelopment is all to the good, especially since Northcross has been moribund for years. But the scale of what Wal*Mart is proposing is far beyond the pale: a store of more than 200,000 square feet, open 24 hours per day.

What’s the big deal, you say? Wal-Mart has lots of big stores, you say? Well, here’s the big deal: Northcross is surrounded by city streets, not highways. Burnet Road and Anderson Lane, which flank the site, are major thoroughfares, but they’re not built to accommodate the level of traffic — in customers’ cars or suppliers’ trucks — that such a store would draw. There are many, many ways that Northcross could be redeveloped, and it’s hard to imagine many that would be worse than the proposed Wal-Mart plan.

Two things worth noting:

1. I’m not anti-Wal-Mart per se. Some of their labor practices have been shady, and the company ought to be penalized for that. Wal-Mart has very often been callous to local opinion in siting its stores, for which it should suffer. Box stores in general are not a great environmental solution to anything. BUT, before we get all knee-jerk about how Wal-Mart is The Source of All Consumerist Evil, consider that (a) they’re putting serious muscle behind intelligent, greener consumer products like compact fluorescent light bulbs and organic coffee, and (b) there are a lot of poor people who can afford more of life’s comforts by shopping at Wal-Mart. My own view is that a lot of the knee-jerk reactions against WM find at least some of their roots in middle-class hauteur toward the unwashed masses. Yes, Wal-Mart deserves loads of criticism for various reasons, but it’s not the spawn of the Devil.

2. This is not a NIMBY issue. It’s not about the fact that this Wal-Mart would be a few hundred yards from my house. It’s about the fact that it’s clearly the wrong kind of store for the site. When Cabela’s built its new superstore in this area, it chose an exurban site in Buda. That’s appropriate, given the huge amount of car and truck traffic the store generates. There are important reasons you wouldn’t build a new baseball stadium or 40-floor office tower on the Northcross space — and these reasons apply to a 219,000-square-foot Wal-Mart as well. If Wal-Mart wanted to put one of its smaller, sleeker urban stores there (it’s done this in downtown Los Angeles), especially as an anchor to a well-designed Arboretum-style shopping/living district, that would be fine by me. The company has a right to do commerce within the city center. It just shouldn’t do it in the way it’s trying to.

For more on this issue, start with Responsible Growth for Northcross, a local group that has been all over this issue. Also see the short Austin Chronicle write-up here by my family friend Katherine Gregor (Ctrl-F for “Grow It Great” to jump to the story), and the longer Chronicle analysis by Michael King here.

So, Austinites: contact the City Council. Tell them you don’t want 100,000-square-foot box stores in the city center. That’s for starters.

3 Responses to “Austin: No Wal*Mart at Northcross.”

  1. Common Sense » Blog Archive » Dear Austin/Northcross neighbors: Make your voices heard. Says:

    […] Last month I posted about Wal*Mart’s plans to build a mammoth store where Northcross Mall sits now. This isn’t going over well with the neighbors (including me). […]

  2. Common Sense » Blog Archive » Austin: RG4N keeps up the drumbeat against a Wal-Mart at Northcross. Says:

    […] I’ve posted about this before, here and here. The Responsible Growth for Northcross (RG4N) group is showing an impressive level of organization and savvy with its efforts to prevent Lincoln Property from building a Wal-Mart where Northcross Mall now stands. Earlier this week, RG4N held a standing-room-only meeting in a neighborhood church, and now it has several events planned for February 10. If you live in this area, mark your calendars and do turn out for this important community issue. […]

  3. What I’ve Learned So Far » Blog Archive » The latest in the battle over Northcross. Says:

    […] The community group RG4N (Responsible Growth for Northcross) continues to oppose the plan of Wal-Mart and Lincoln Properties (sketched out here) to build a ginormous Wal-Mart Supercenter + three-story parking garage on part of the site of the current Northcross Mall (which will — and should — be torn down in any case). Because RG4N has gotten no love from the retailer, the developer, or the Austin City Council, they’ve filed a lawsuit to stop the current development plan, claiming (I think accurately) that the developers grossly underestimate the traffic impacts that a 24-hour Supercenter will have on Anderson and Burnet, the two thoroughfares that border the Northcross site. […]

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