H-E-B’s Main Ave. Plans Passed Council, Now Citizens Want Oversight
Published: December 18, 2013
While some groups like The King William Neighborhood Association initially opposed the street closure, they’ve since changed their minds. The KWA dropped their disapproval after the board of directors voted 7-6 to OK the measure in late November. In a release, the KWA said the board came to its decision based on the mitigation plan. A KWA member voiced the group’s approval at the council meeting, but also pointed to lingering concerns. She recommended the $3.5 million allotted for street closure fees be earmarked for infrastructure improvements, sidewalk and street repair and additional lighting along Arsenal and South Alamo streets for those directly impacted. She also noted inconsistencies surrounding bike paths between the presentation given by H-E-B and the actual development agreement and lastly, she urged the grocer to add an expiration date clause to the gas station, as the grocery store is only guaranteed to operate for at least five years.
But not everyone has come to terms with the proposal. Charlotte Luongo, member of Main Access (a coalition of residents opposed to the plan), delivered a petition against the street closure signed by 2,000 citizens to council on the day of the vote. “[T]hese citizens are angry, they know they have been disenfranchised … they know the city is no longer a democracy, it is being run by corporate interests,” she says. In an interview after the meeting, Luongo tells the Current the mitigation plan didn’t ease the problems for her, either.
Luongo and Bogle find it interesting that some Zoning Commission members weren’t completely gung-ho about green-lighting the grocer’s plans—namely District 1 Commissioner Marianna Ornelas, who, during a meeting before the council vote, proposed a motion to halt the gas station on the grocery store site—an integral part of the plan. With no second, the proposal died. The new H-E-B store will fall in Ornelas’ district.
“They seemed very conflicted, it was not an easy decision for them. Ultimately, they accepted H-E-B’s answers but it did end with the chairman saying he hoped they didn’t put their trust in the wrong corporation,” says Claudia Guerra, Bogle’s architecture colleague, present at the meeting.
Additionally, residents say one of the major failures of the project has been the perceived lack of public input and transparency. With the plan already in motion, the next step for concerned citizens appears to be ensuring they are part of the process. Some feel the plan was guided by economic pressure, as the local retailer is the largest privately held company in Texas, and as a result, their concerns were pushed aside.
“All of these deals have been done behind closed doors with no citizen input,” said Luongo. “No community input was ever asked for.” There hasn’t been much community outreach, she says, with the exception of a few private talks with little to no compromise. “In their minds, they had taken possession of that street already.”
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