New Lawsuit Seeks To Block Washington Heights Walmart Tax Deal

NEW LAWSUIT SEEKS TO BLOCK WASHINGTON HEIGHTS WALMART TAX DEAL A nonprofit group formed to fight the proposed Washington Heights Walmart in the West End filed a lawsuit in district court yesterday, claiming that the tax reimbursement deal between the city and the project’s developer, Ainbinder Heights LLC, violates state law. Responsible Urban Development for Houston calls the $6 million agreement, in which the city promises to pay the developer back for infrastructure improvements, an “unconstitutional gratuitous transfer” that doesn’t meet state standards. The lawsuit also seeks to shut down all similar agreements established by the city, for “failing to provide sufficient controls to ensure that 380 agreements are not abused as either an end run around bond finance procedures or as political favors returned to well connected developers.” City Council is scheduled to vote on a similar agreement, for a new Kroger on Studemont just south of I-10, today. [Houston Politics; lawsuit; West End Walmart coverage]

41 Comment

  • Would RUDH have filed the same lawsuit if the development was something that they approved of?

  • C’mon! It was only $6 million and we would be getting a slightly wider than normal sidewalk and tens of trees.

  • How much would it cost for the city to pay for the planned street and infrastructure improvements? If the city wants to build a street there, why not just build it themselves and remove all the politics out of it. I don’t get this. If Kroger believes it is good business to place a store there, a lousy $2.5M won’t stop them. They are asking for it because they can. Just like a drunken hobo peddling for spare change at the corner. Tell them “no thank you,” and move on.

  • If Kroger builds the store there themselves then there is no benefit to them of building a public right of way across their private land. The City is betting that by opening a public right of way through that land to connect to the Sawyer side they will promote further development of that pocket of land which in turn will boost employment and the tax base. It is an investment in infrastructure and doing it this way allows them to pay for it in installments over a longer period rather than having to pay for it up front. I am confused that so many people are confused about how 380 agreements work.

  • Grasping at straws, then just file a lawsuit, aye?

    As effective as our city is at issuing new bonds to pay for infrastructure and then raising taxes to pay off those bonds, i’m much more happy with them brokering these items out with future developers to help drive growth. Since growth and the resulting revenue to help better fund city services is something that parker and our current council are proving to be adamantly against, we should be happy with what we get.

  • So, it doesn’t matter whether a developer can pay for some or all of the needed public infrastructure? I think that is the point here. The various assitance programs (TIRZ and other development agreements) are supposed to actually be . . . wait for it. . . assistance. Why in the world would you put up scarce tax dollars to fix up an intersection for a developer when the developer is ready, willing and able to pay for it? Correct me if I am wrong, but as far as I have heard, HEB isn’t getting any help for the road construction for the Dunlavy store. I also recall hearing that the Ashby developers put up $500k for public drainage upgrades. That is a good deal for the City. Giving up tax revenues to refund what developers spend on infrastructure is generally a bad deal for the City, unless the money gets a development going that would not otherwise happen. If someone is taking a risk on an underdeveloped part of town and needs some help, fine. Give them some assistance. But, if a developer is going to make piles of cash in a hot part of town, why subsidize their profit with public funds? Whether this is for the courts or a political issue remains to be seen. But, I don’t buy the ends justifies the means argument. The means are tax revenues that will be sorely missed from future City budgets.

  • @Jimbo – Amen brother, it seems like willful ignorance of how the 380 agreements are structured. Filing a lawsuit to shutdown the 380 agreement is not going to get them what they want (no Walmart); it’s just going to waste time and taxpayer money.

  • ahhh – ANOTHER Kroger in the Heights…? Why o why God???? I am surrounded by Kroger’s and their methods of squeezing the farmers’ aren’t much better than Walmart’s methods!

  • It’s …. Not … In … The … Heights!

  • Would Rich Urbanites for Damaging Houston please just allow the development of the West End? The area in question is an eyesore and putting anything on the cesspool south of I-10 would be a “responsible” improvement.

  • What’s up with the resentment towards RUDH for filing a lawsuit? They compared the Ainbinder 380 to what 380 agreements were designed to do and saw that they didn’t align. At least they used their brains and did something about an issue they don’t agree with. As opposed to just bitching about it on the internet and then doing nothing (which seems to be the norm). I applaud them for taking action and taking a stand against the corruption that plagues city hall.

  • It’s anti-development groups like Responsible Urban Development for Houston that make it more difficult to do get projects done and in return force developers out to some of the outlier municipalities (Sugar Land, Katy, The Woodlands, etc.) that are more welcoming to progress/new projects.

  • RUDH is proactively trying to block the development of a neighborhood that desperately needs it. They are not cleansing corruption in city hall, nor are just filing a lawsuit. As a West End resident I resent a group of self-righteous sanctimonious, supercilious jerks threatening to litigate any project they don’t personally approve of.

  • Okay Jimbo- the Kroger is just barley south of the Heights and it will share the exit off I-10 to go to the Heights. Tell the media that the store is not in the Heights – they always report things in “the Heights” for anything that goes north up to Pinemont – north of Oak Forest – especially KHOU and they are on Allen Parkway!

  • While I doubt the prospects of the lawsuit, its only possible outcome would be to get a Walmart without newly paved street infrastructure. Or, the City may do its part, and issue bonds to pay for it. But, it will not get rid of Walmart. They are barking up the wrong tree.

  • Who cares whether it the non-Heights “Washington Heights” Kroger is located in the Heights? This is a non-issue raised time and time again by contrarian angry trolls who cruise this blog day and night. The issue is whether the non-Heights “Washington Heights” Kroger and Walmart need to enrich themselves further at the expense of tax payers.

  • Mel: I have earned a master’s degree from an elite university, I can’t seem to understand how paying for the city’s deferred maintenance projects is tantamount to being “enriched at taxpayer expense”. The situation can be summarized this way, either the roads, sidewalks and esplanades are repaired by Wal-mart, Kroger et al, or they are left decrepit and dilapidated. As a local, I prefer that they are fixed and am surprised by how many people disagree with this.

  • RUDH is pro-development just not pro-lousy, suburban, unwalkable big-box development. The original plan for that Ealmart site was mixed-use, dense and urban. Now it’s a big-box in a sea of parking. No drainage detention, no fixed bridge, nothing worth reimbursing developers $6M in future tax revenues to the City. If Ainbinder wants to build a low value, low tax revenue generating, suburban turd, let him do it in his, and Walmarts, dime, not mine. We offer a huge thanks to RUDH for representing the thousands of voters in opposition to bad public policy!

  • David, I have a doctorate. Doctorate trumps masters.

  • The Ainbinder (Walmart) 380 reimburses absolutely – it does not matter if the Walmart generates any tax revenue at all. All they have to do is build a Walmart and 15 months later the bill is due – plus interest.

    Parker and Icken have misrepresented this deal from the beginning – Parker went on the radio less than a week before it went on the Council Agenda and called it “interest free” which it most certainly is not.

    Icken stated in the Request for Council Action that reimbursement is based on increased taxes from a base year – it is not.

  • Okay, so the doctorate you obtained from a box of corn flakes enables you to make nonsensical statements and trump logic. Must be nice.

  • Another standing ovation for RUDH. Lots of people can sit here and nag in the comments section of Swamplot but how many of you internet trolls are actually out and active in your communities?

    The Heights is hardly in need of stimulus for development. Look at White Oak. The owner of the buildings now housing everything from Damico’s to Tacos A Go Go didn’t get tax payer money to make that happen.

    Anything is not better than nothing. Smart development is good for all of us and helps create a better quality of life.

    KUDOS for RUDH for being willing to commit the time and effort it takes to try and have a positive impact on their city, rather than just sit around and nag about what other people aren’t doing.

  • Alright you guys win; I’m an Internet troll and have been one since I got my iPad. I know you’re jealous, so maybe if you’re really really good, and do your own laundry for a while, then your mom will buy an iPad for you.

  • Heights people, this isn’t about a Wal-Mart or Kroger or encouraging development or anything like that. It’s specifically about moving ahead on CIP projects in the area.

    The West End/First Ward area is growing and developing rapidly, and needs infrastructure improvements badly. If they place on the CIP (to pay with bond many as some suggested), it will be a minimum of 5 years, but probably 10 before these improvements get done.

    In the case of Kroger, they want the Summer connector road to connect Studemont to Taylor.

    Had the D’amicos on White Oak been built on a parcel of private property in which the city wanted to build a road, I bet they would’ve gotten a 380 agreement.

  • Wow David! You used your masters from an “elite” college to deduce that I obtained my doctorate from a box of cornflakes. What else does your oracle in a matted frame tell you???? And I agree, it is nice that I am right and you are wrong. I enjoy this feeling, immensely.

  • Oopsie, David! Your oracle in a matted frame failed you big time, I also have an iPad. So you were dead right on the cornflakes box (that was amazing!) but dead wrong on the iPad thing. Better luck next time elite college oracle. By way of further response, I fully incorporate comments 6, 11, 18, 20 and 22 herein. Hear, hear voices of reason!

  • Its the way things work here in pro-developer Houston. Don’t like it? CHANGE it. Oh that’s right y’all don’t have deep enough pockets and the connections !!!!

  • SJ: these are not CIP projects. They are projects that the developers need, not the public. Summer St. connection is for Kroger. It helps get people from Target to Kroger faster when they can’t find what they need at Kroger. There is nothing in between the two except for industrial facilities. Same with Walmart. Koehler connection from Yale to Heights is for the development. No one ever talked about needing Koehler to pass through to Heights. Bass connection to feeder is for the development. No one was going to CIP meetings begging for these projects. They weren’t even a passing thought until the developers needed them. Sure, Yale needs resurfacing, but the development has to widen yale for a left turn lane. So, make them pay for it. They can afford it, the City can’t. I would rather drive on a bumpy Yale St. for 10 years and have the pools open over summer than subsidize a Walmart development and have 10 years of continuous budget problems.

    The D’Amicos project probably wouldn’t meet the City’s minimum investment requirement (3 mil) for a 380. Lots of development goes in in Houston without 380 agreements. In fact, Mayor Parker is the first Houston mayor to use 380 agreements. Bill White wouldn’t touch them for good reason. The City saw lots of development under Bill White without 380 agreements. Developers are not like a rare species of warbler that requires a special habitat to survive. They make huge sums on these projects and can afford to put a little more skin in the game to pay for the public improvements that are needed solely to benefit their developments.

  • It’s just a bunch of elitist racists that don’t want a store that’ll bring “bad elements” into their neighboorhood. If this was a Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s going up they would all be holding hands and singing Cumbayah. That’s all it is. I’m suprised they’re not trying to block that Central American chicken place that’s going up on Washington Ave. Go WalMart and Go Kroger!

  • The bad element I want to keep out of my neighborhood is #29 and his ugly attitude.

  • @Mel. A doctorate doesn’t trump anything at all. I have one too and at the end of the day it is just another piece of paper. It doesn’t make me smarter, more informed or better able to divine the opinion of the rest of population or speak for them.

  • Personally….I want an H-E-B

  • @Mel, the sad thing is that #29 has a lot of truth in it. Many of the folks who are opposed to the WalMart and Kroger, even without the 380 agreements, would be perfectly happy to see a Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods because it fits their idea of what is “right”. These are the same folks who think it’s perfectly OK to tell you how to maintain your house to fit their aesthetic ideal, not caring one whit that you would like to do something different. Their general attitude is “do it my way or go elsewhere”.

  • You don’t have to tell me, Jimbo. My degree came from a cornflakes box! Sounds like you have a really nifty one, though. Anyway, save it for Dave, he of the masters from an elite college.

  • Ross, I don’t think racism explains the phenomena which you have described. I don’t want TJ’s or Walmart and I am neither an elitist nor a racist and I live in the heights! How about that!

  • Old School – You need to get your facts straight. While Ainbinder could of just used his money to improve the utilities that he needs to for his development, it would of not improved any of the roadways, bridges or the Heights Median and it certainly would not of broght Koehler through his other property that he owned. The 360 agreement reimburses him for infastructure and the such that benefits the city. He will expand and improve Yale which is in horrible shape as well as install a signalized light at Koehler. You need to look at the long term, this will improve the area, all you see is a Wal-Mart and retail centers, but what you don’t realize is these properties values will increase greatly and the property taxes they will pay will more than reimburse the developer, it will greatly benefit everyone in that area.

  • Joan says: “…but what you don’t realize is these properties values will increase greatly and the property taxes they will pay will more than reimburse the developer, it will greatly benefit everyone in that area.”

    So, according to Joan, the benefit of the 380 agreement is that the surrounding homeowners will pay higher taxes to compensate for the taxes Walmart is not paying? Did I read that correctly. I am doubling down on my opposition to 380 agreements.

  • No Joan, you need to get your facts straight. They have to signalize Koehler to mitigate their traffic impact. Same for the Koehler cut through and Yale widening. This is all for the benefit of the development. No one in the Heights wants yet another traffic signal on Yale or needs Koehler to cut through to Heights. The work on the bridge is mostly cosmetic. In fact, the yale St bridge needs 3 mil to make it structurally sound for semi trailers that are needed to stock Walmart. Current plan is to have them use the Koehler cut through because the 380 ignored this issue, but still found money for fluffy things like the bike path to nowhere to get people to think that this is a great deal for the community. But we aren’t buying it. The vast majority of the improvements are for the development and must be built with or without the 380 agreement. If the developer has to make the improvements and can afford to do so, then why in the world should they get a penny from tax payers for them?

  • @Mel, WalMart will pay taxes. The City will rebate some of them to reimburse for the costs the developer incurred improving city infrastructure.

  • Stupid Yuppies. Why can’t just stop their whining and move to Dallas…