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Hell hath no fury like Helotes

Helotes Mayor Jonathan Allan wobbled in a few places during the City Council meeting last week, and leaned heavily on City Attorney Steve Arronge as the contentious council crafted a plan to open talks with Wal-Mart.

The big-box chain plans to build a superstore at the intersection of Bandera and Scenic Loop roads.

Although about 25 Helotes and area residents - some for, others against - commented on the proposal, Council's main debate was over the appointment of new members to the Helotes planning and zoning commission. The commission has failed to adopt a resolution to oppose Wal-Mart or any big-box stores within the Helotes city limits, but authorized Mayor Allan (or Mayor Steve Hodges, pending a court decision on the June vote) to discuss the proposal with Wal-Mart, which is proceeding with its design phase for the Scenic Loop location.

Allan struggled with procedure, as outlined by Robert's Rules of Order, monitoring various motions and amendments made on top of motions, while ignoring former Mayor Hodges, who heckled him from the rear of a packed City Council chamber.

The election of Mayor Jonathan Allan, Stuart Birnbaum, and Linda Boyer-Owens to the Helotes City Council has yet to
stop Wal-Mart.

The question of whether attendees and speakers at recent Council meetings are interlopers has been heated, as Alderman Jim Caruso and other residents have voiced resentment that Grey Foresters and other "outsiders" oppose the project. (An allegation in Hodge's election lawsuit is that "a number of voters who voted in the election don't have legal voting residence in Helotes.")

The Wal-Mart would be in the northwest Bexar County suburb's extraterritorial jurisdiction, and could one day be annexed into Helotes, a move that proponents say would pump sales-tax revenue into the city's treasury.

Wal-Mart proponents in Helotes argue that it is better to negotiate with the corporation to cut a better deal for the city, including extracting development concessions such as imposing limits on pavement, prohibiting a driveway from the store to Scenic Loop Drive, and a general plan to incorporate the local Hill Country ambience into the store design.

The Wal-Mart controversy gained momentum last year when residents of Helotes, Grey Forest, and outlying areas learned that Balous Miller of Bill Miller BBQ fame had signed a contract to sell acreage at Scenic Loop and Bandera to Wal-Mart. Outraged opponents rallied around the Helotes Heritage Association and appeals to then-mayor Hodges and City Council. The group focused on Alderman Charles James, who owns land across the street from the proposed site. Critics charged James with conflict of interest, saying he would benefit from the development.

The election of Mayor Allan, Stuart Birnbaum, and Linda Boyer-Owens to the Helotes City Council has yet to stop Wal-Mart. The proponents have three votes on the six-member council, and Allan can vote unless there's a tie.

As the 50 seats in the City Council chamber quickly filled last Thursday, one man sat in the chamber and ate his dinner: a hamburger and fountain drink from the local Sonic drive-in. If nothing else, the Wal-Mart controversy has sparked intense interest in municipal government among the locals in Helotes.

By Michael Cary

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