Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Thoughts on WalMart: Developers need to do a better job of listening to neighborhood groups.

I didn’t make it to the hearing on The Washington Heights WalMart yesterday evening, but I wish I had. As a Super Neighborhood President, and an Architect I can’t resist weighing in on a land use battle.

There are positives to the Washington Heights WalMart development. They’ve found a big piece of land in an up and coming neighborhood. The site is an abandoned factory (what we call a “brownfield”); it is the kind of property that neighborhoods beg to redevelop. And at some level, you have to wonder how much of the opposition is to WalMart in general. There will be 30 other stores in the development. Nobody’s protesting them.

But there is a major drawback to the Washington Heights WalMart: site access. The property is bounded on one side by train tracks. On the other three sides it has minor, two lane roads. I-10 is nearby, but there is currently no easy access from the highway to the site. Rumor has it that TXDOT will build a new exit from I-10 that will fix it, but until they do, It’s going to be a nightmare for drivers to reach this property.

Neighbors have rightly pointed out these concerns (along with the resultant traffic, crime and noise) - and the developers would be wise to listen. In general, developers need to do a better job of listening to neighborhood groups. They need to do it before they close on a piece of land – just like they would consult a zoning ordinance in most other cities. They could avoid land use battles like the one over the Washington Heights WalMart; and get fresh insight into their plans. In the end the developments would be better, and Houston’s neighborhoods would be better, too.

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