CityPlace Neighbors Are Rallying to Fight Planned Sam's Club, But It's Probably Too Late

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Neighbors are, at this very moment, rallying opposition to the Sam's Club that Trammell Crow plans to build at CityPlace. They've launched the inevitable Change.org petition. They've booked Councilman Adam Medrano for a community meeting tonight. They are scouring the final development plan the City Plan Commission is scheduled to vote on tomorrow, hoping to find something that can derail the project.

None of it will do any good.

Sure, neighbors may be able to wring some concessions from Trammell Crow, a few extra trees here, a modestly rearranged traffic mitigation plan there, but the chances of killing the project are essentially nil.

"At this point, the zoning is there for ... big-box regional retail," says Neil Emmons, one of the hosts of tonight's community meeting. "The only thing left is the development plan, and if the development plan complies with the zoning ordinance," the Plan Commission has to approve it.

See also: Trammell Crow Wants to Build a Sam's Club at CityPlace

Emmons would know. He spent eight years on the Plan Commission and already has one Walmart scalp, having helped derail a 2002 plan to build a Supercenter at Mockingbird Lane and Lemmon Avenue. Neighbors may be able to score some amendments to the development plan, but otherwise the deal is done.

How did this happen? How did Trammell Crow manage to slip plans for an enormous warehouse store a stone's throw from downtown past the Plan Commission and City Council until it was too late to stop them?

Hard to say, but the original rezoning proposal was unanimously approved by both the Plan Commission and City Council in May 2013, with no one appearing to speak in opposition.

Had neighbors been aware of what was in the works, they would have showed up in force, says CityPlace neighbor Jonas Park.

The neighborhood, which occupies roughly the same real estate on the east side of Central that Uptown does on the west, is rapidly gentrifying. When Park moved in four years ago, the neighborhood was in decline. "I was more of a pioneer," he says. "No one on the other side was moving this way." Since then, he says, that more than a dozen new houses have been or are being built on his street and the adjacent block.

The Sam's, Park fears, will reverse that trend, dropping property values and driving away the urban types who might otherwise be attracted to a growing area so close to downtown. He's also not thrilled about the traffic, which is already terrible.

It's not quite that neighbors were unaware that a zoning change was in the works last spring. They were mailed cards alerting them to that fact as the city requires. But Park says that when they met with developers they were pitched a vision of an "East Village," a walkable, urban mirror-image of West Village. Most thought it seemed like a pretty good idea.

"When the news came out that it was going to be a Sam's Club with a big box in the middle, it caught everybody by surprise."

Now, Park, Emmons, and the rest of the opposition do little more than hope that the folks from Bentonville, Arkansas won't repeat past sins.

"Look at the old Sam's at Greenville and Park lane, and it is a drug dealer's paradise," Emmert says. "What they left us was instant urban blight."

Send your story tips to the author, Eric Nicholson.

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