Neighbors never exactly embraced Wal-mart's plans to build a Neighborhood Market on Lower Greenville. Suspicious of the chain's ability to integrate into an urban neighborhood, particularly one as fastidious as Lower Greenville, their opposition was close to unanimous, the only variation being in the intensity of their anti-Wal-mart sentiment.
Leaders of the surrounding neighborhood associations -- Belmont, Greenland Hills, Vickery Place, Lower Greenville and Lowest Greenville West -- also realized they didn't have much choice. The zoning was in place and the landlord, former City Councilman Mitchell Rasansky, could lease the property to whomever he chose. Their only option was to band together and wring what concessions they could out of the world's largest retailer, which they did.
Melissa Kingston, an attorney who lives two blocks from the Wal-mart, led negotiations on behalf of the neighborhood groups.
"I stepped in to try to get the best deal for the neighborhood we could get from Walmart," she wrote in an email to neighbors last week. "During those negotiations, Walmart made a lot of promises to us about what a good neighor it would be. Well, fast forward 20 months, and guess what? All those anti-Walmart people were right. The Walmart on Greenville & Belmont treats its neighbors terribly."
Kingston says there are several gripes about noise and mowing, but the biggest issue is the delivery trucks that rumble past homes on Belmont at all hours of the night, contrary to a deal with neighbors in which Walmart promised to use all-commercial Richmond Avenue for after-hours deliveries. Neighbors along the street have been complaining for months of lights of turning trucks flashing into their bedrooms and of the noise of idling 18-wheeler engines and horn blasts alerting the workers inside the store to after-midnight delivery. The trucks routinely turn into one neighbor's front yard and on multiple occasions have struck his tree, once leaving a chunk of it across Belmont for several days.
Wal-mart's response? Crickets.
"We've spent months trying to work with code, work with their local management, their regional management, and nothing happens," Kingston says. For a time, Wal-mart representatives would at least listen and make promises. "Now they're not responding at all. When they took out this guys tree and then went dark, that's when we started to [speak publicly]."
Wal-mart spokeswoman Anne Hatfield released an apologetic statement on Tuesday saying the company is working with neighbors to find a fix:
Walmart is aware of the truck situation with our store on Greenville Avenue and we recognize it is a problem. We are sorry about the frustrations and are actively working with the owner of the property, city staff and the fire department on a solution that meets code and is amenable to everyone. A Walmart representative has been in continuous contact with the neighbor most affected by the traffic on Belmont, and we recognize that a timely solution will help everyone in the Lower Greenville community. We hope to announce a solution to this problem soon.
For City Councilman Philip Kingston, Melissa's ex-husband, Wal-mart's recalcitrance on the Lower Greenville grocery is further evidence that the company is incapable of doing intelligent urban retail. He parallels it to the company's tone-deaf approach to the Sam's Club planned for CityPlace: a project being pushed through over neighbors' objections with little heed paid to the character of the surrounding neighborhood.
"In their minds this Sam's will be the greatest Sam's they've ever built," he says. "It just shows they don't get it. They are clueless."
The evidence hits you as soon as you walk into the Lower Greenville store. "The only thing they did to the store to make it match our neighborhood was they put dried chiles in the kiosk by the front door," Philip Kingston says. And the beer selection is worse than the 7-Eleven across the street.
One of his early attempts to address complaints about the Lower Greenville store fizzled when the "no trucks" signs the city installed along Belmont included an important coda: "except deliveries." He plans to keep at it, but his recent interactions with the company have left him skeptical of Wal-mart's capacity for compromise.
He wasn't always so skeptical. When Wal-mart first announced plans for the Neighborhood Market, he thought his neighbors were being melodramatic and assumed the retailer's reputation for trampling neighborhoods was probably undeserved.
"Guess who was right and who was wrong," he says. "I was wrong: They are that bad."
Send your story tips to the author, Eric Nicholson.