Local

Residents sue city of Houston over planned Walmart

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The controversial Heights Walmart development is headed to court. Local residents opposed to the project have filed a lawsuit against the City of Houston and Ainbinder, the developer.

The lawsuit isn't over Walmart per se, but it's about deals that include public land and 380 agreements. It challenges the legality of those agreements, and if Wednesday's City Council meeting is any indication, those agreements are not going away.

It may still be just a grassy field, but it's slated to one day be a shopping center that includes Walmart. And after a year of debate and work, Jeff Jackson and his concerned neighbors decided to file suit.

"The mayor and her team seem to be opening up the public coffers to the connected developers and the big companies," Jackson said.

Jackson isn't suing Walmart. Rather, he's suing the developer Ainbinder and the city of Houston for entering into a so-called 380 agreement which allows the city to reimburse private developers who make improvements on public land.

On Wednesday, City Council got into a heated debate over another proposed 380 agreement. This time it's with Kroger to build a store along Studemont and I-10.

"It smacks to me of a bit of corporate welfare," Houston City Council Member Anne Clutterbuck said.

"I hope we revisit our use of 380 agreements and use them in the parts of the city where we most need it, and I would respectfully submit we're not doing that right now," Houston City Council Member Jolanda Jones said.

Kroger, for its part, issued a statement, saying, "The proposed Studemont project is based on certain tax reimbursements. Without those reimbursements, the project will not meet approved criteria for our capital allocation to build a new store."

Mayor Annise Parker says these 380 agreements provide a much-needed tool for a city.

"We don't write a check to Kroger, we don't write a check to Walmart, we're not giving money to anybody. They pay for the public infrastructure, and then we reimburse them if they generate incremental tax revenue," Parker said.

The Kroger agreement was delayed Wednesday, but since the Walmart-related project was already approved last year, Jackson says he's ready for a court fight.

"The 380 agreement isn't needed, and it's a waste of public tax money," he said.

Because the lawsuit was filed Wednesday, neither Ainbinder nor the city of Houston have had time to look at it or respond.

Meanwhile, Houston City Council is scheduled to vote on the Kroger agreement next week.

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walmart, heights, local, miya shay
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