College Station's city council deliberated into the early morning hours, and in a 4-3 vote, decided against rezoning 50 acres at Rock Prairie and Highway 6, land that would have likely included a Super Wal-Mart.
After more than six hours of speeches, College Station's city council chose not to rezone prime highway property to commercial, despite the city's comprehensive plan stating the best use of the property is for regional retail. Weingarten Realty owns the property.
"We will continue to take neighborhood concerns and try to address them as best we can," said Eric Strauss with Weingarten in the early portions of the meeting. "We hear it, we understand it, and we're definitely committed to try to work those out."
Those concerns include added traffic to what residents call an already congested area, and the compromising of residential development with a huge commercial establishment.
"It's not too late to listen to the wishes of the citizen voters of this community and take a better look at this before we proceed," said local resident Monique Green. "It's a Wal-Mart, people. You can put a pig in a tutu and rouge her cheeks and teach her to dance, but it's still a pig."
The vast majority of the more than 400 people in attendance agreed with those sentiments, though there was a smattering of support for the development.
"Councilmembers, there's an old saying: ignorance of the law is no excuse," said Darrell Green of Normangee, who actually sold the College Station property in question to Weingarten. "Well, ignorance of the comprehensive plan is no excuse either."
"They've obeyed the law," said Councilmember Ron Gay about Weingarten in part of a strong dissenting opinion. "They expect us to obey the law. They expect us to keep our word."
But for the majority of councilmembers, there were too many unanswered questions to go ahead with the development.
"I cannot support this rezoning on behalf of the health, safety and welfare of the community," said Councilmember Lynn McIlhaney, "so I would like to make a motion that we accept P&Z's recommendation to deny this rezoning."
Mayor Ron Silvia, McIlhaney, Dave Ruesink and Ben White voted in favor of denying the rezoning. Gay, along with Councilmembers John Happ and Chris Scotti voted against denial.
"It's been a long night," said Brent Mann with Weingarten. "We just need to go back, huddle, take in everything that was said tonight, and regroup and figure out where we go from here."
As part of the 4-3 decision, council also directed city staff to conduct an immediate traffic impact analysis on that part of town. According to Ken Fogle with planning and development, they will likely work with an outside consultant on that analysis. After negociating a contract, and with the size of the area in question, Fogle says an analysis would likely take two-to-three months.
College Station's city staff had recommended approval of the rezoning proposal. The planning and zoning commission recommended denying it. The city's comprehensive plan shows the best use of the property was regional retail.
Weingarten officials say they will develop the property they have invested millions in. During the meeting, their attorneys cited legal actions taken against cities when they denied zoning against the comprehensive plan. When asked if they might take legal action against College Station, Weingarten officials said they won't speculate on their next move.