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Wal-Mart meets with citizens to talk traffic and crime at Northcross location

Thursday, March 18, 2010 by Kimberly Reeves

Members of Responsible Growth for Northcross (RG4N) met with the team for the Northcross Wal-Mart last week, expressing continuing concerns about traffic and crime issues.


RG4N organizer Jason Meeker brokered a meeting between the Wal-Mart team, led by Trey Salinas, and about two-dozen residents of the surrounding neighborhoods. While some local residents still sounded raw about the Wal-Mart deal – even with the store scaled down to a size just under 100,000 square feet — Meeker attempted to intervene and tone down some of the anger from local residents.


Three concerns appeared to rise to the top: potential truck traffic, hours of operation, and what some homeowners consider to be inevitable crime issues.


Salinas and his team took each question in turn, promising future meetings to address the issues between them and the yet-to-be-named store management. Wal-Mart’s goal is to have the Northcross store open by sometime in October.


“As Jason has pointed out, this should have happened sooner, but I want to assure you this is only the beginning of a constructive dialogue,” Salinas said. “Jason and I have talked about wanting to continue a constructive dialogue, and we will continue to do whatever we can to address that tonight and at some time in the future.”


Neighbors continue to be concerned about traffic and when it will occur. While the Wal-Mart team said it could control its own distribution trucks, spokesmen also said it couldn’t ticket other distributors that may choose to use neighborhood streets. The team, however, promised to address those concerns through the eventual store manager.


No more than three or four Wal-Mart 18-wheelers should be pulling into the lot on any given day. Predictions of 300 trucks a day, which early opponents noted in opposition to the site plans, were greatly exaggerated, according to the Wal-Mart team.


This would not be a traditional superstore as originally planned, Salinas noted. Instead, this would be a smaller store without a garden shop or lube center.


Most Wal-Mart stores are open 24 hours a day. This one, as a concession to local neighborhoods, will close at 1am and reopen at 5am, which is somewhat consistent with the HEB located at Burnet and Koenig lanes. If the HEB were to open 24 hours, the Wal-Mart at Northcross would reserve the right to compete on those terms and to extend 24-hour service through the holidays, Salinas said.


The Wal-Mart team could not guarantee the circulation of truck traffic, especially traffic of smaller vehicles that are not owned by the retail chain, but the team promised that any neighborhood cut-through traffic would be addressed, either by direct instruction or by contact with the Austin Police Department.


In negotiations, the Wal-Mart had agreed to limited hours, but Salinas noted that exceptions might be made for the holidays or in the case that a direct competitor offered 24-hour operations.


Already, the CVS Pharmacy – across Anderson Lane but not considered a direct competitor – has expanded limited hours to 24-hour service for customers. Most businesses, however, do close before midnight.


This Wal-Mart, unlike larger stores on major thoroughfares, will not invite truckers to use the lot for overnight parking. Nor will truckers be encouraged to use either Rockwood or Foster lanes for access to the store, Salinas said.


During the question-and-answer session, one angry resident asked whether local business would be fostered. Salinas said small restaurants had been encouraged to apply for pad sites within the Wal-Mart, a point that was dismissed by the local resident. Instead, Salinas promised to address any specific concerns raised by local businesses, although most business surrounding the Wal-Mart along Anderson and Burnet lanes are unlikely to be impacted by Wal-Mart’s business.


Some residents pointed to other local Wal-Mart locations as “eyesores” and potential havens for crime. Salinas encouraged concerned residents to address potential crime concerns with the future store manager.


Meeker noted that concerns were high in local neighborhoods as of late because of a recent rash of home burglaries. Another attendee piped up to say that the homeless population in the area had doubled in recent years, which some in the audience appeared to tie to the increase in both home and car burglaries.


The Wal-Mart team attributed other improvements to the city, such as improved crosswalks on streets around Wal-Mart. Meeker said he would contact Council Member Laura Morrison’s office on promised improvements to access. Salinas also mentioned the upcoming bond election as a potential option to address local issues.

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