Sugar Land P & Z asks for other options in St. Laurence expansion plan
By Betsy Dolan
Its back to the drawing board for St. Laurence Catholic Church after their request to build a larger building for their religious education and day care program prompted concerns by neighbors whose homes back up to the proposed site.
Sugar Land’s Planning and Zoning Commission did not deny the church’s request but asked for other options after listening to homeowner complaints during a public hearing that lasted nearly four hours.
The original plan called for the demolition of two older buildings on the southeast corner of Austin Parkway and Sweetwater and a 79,521 square foot building to be put on the site.
The existing buildings were in operation prior to the land being annexed by the City of Sugar Land and did not require a conditional use permit. But the new building requires a CUP because the property now sits in a standard single-family residential district.
The proposed 2-story building would sit on the rear of the lot and would be 137 feet from the back yard property line of some homes and 78 feet from others who live in the Colony Park subdivision, where many of the residents are St. Laurence parishioners.
In addition, the plan calls for the removal of 16 protected trees and the loss of 74 parking spaces. There are also concerns that drop-off and pick-up times will increase noise and air pollution and increase the amount of cut-through traffic trying to avoid the Sweetwater/Austin Parkway intersection.
“The new building would be even closer to my backyard and I would have even less privacy,” said Colony Park resident and parishioner Carmen Henshaw. “I am upset that the church refuses to consider moving the building.”
But church officials say repositioning the building would mean eliminating even more parking spaces, increase congestion and the inability to safely funnel pedestrians to the cross-walks. And, they say, Colony Park homeowners have always had St. Laurence in their backyard and it has been a mutually beneficial relationship.
“This property has always been a church property since First Colony’s first master plan in 1981, long before the Colony Parks subdivision was even platted”, said Steve Ewbanks, chair of the St. Laurence building committee. “Currently, 33% of the residents of Colony Park are registered parishioners of St. Laurence. [The] proximity to St. Laurence Parish and school adds value to homes within walking distance.”
Among P&Z Commission members, the response to the project was mixed. Lars Hagen was in full support of the project, praising the church’s highly-regarded pre-school program.
“We’ve been focusing on redevelopment and making sure Sugar Land stays vibrant and is able to attract young families and St. Laurence is part of that”, Hagen said.
P&Z Chair Kathy Huebner said she was concerned about the loss of parking spots and the size of the building.
“I empathize with the homeowners who back up to this and I empathize with the church too”, Huebner said. “I think the set back is adequate. It’s just the sheer size of the building. I feel like it might be better to push it up toward the street”.
St. Laurence currently has over 6,728 families.
P & Z ultimately asked St. Laurence to explore repositioning the building or putting it more toward the center or front of the lot. The matter will be discussed further at a future meeting.
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