Sugar Land P & Z approves St. Laurence expansion plan

By Betsy Dolan 

In a vote of 6-3, Sugar Land’s Planning and Zoning Commission approved a conditional use permit for St. Laurence Catholic Church’s plan to build an almost 80,000 square foot religious education center and day care facility on a site that borders a nearby subdivision.

The measure now goes before the Mayor and City Council.

The approval by P & Z was a blow to homeowners in the Colony Park subdivision who had been fighting to have the building, at Sweetwater Boulevard and Austin Parkway, moved closer to the street and away from their backyards.

“This building will change the overall landscape of Colony Park and First Colony,” said one resident during the public comment portion of the March 27 P & Z meeting. “It sets a precedent for what will be allowed in the future–commercial sized buildings close to homes.”

The church says they need a larger, modern building to accommodate growth, expand their religious education offerings and day care program. St. Laurence wanted the building set back from the street in order to preserve parking spaces and safely funnel pedestrians to crosswalks.

The church’s application for a CUP had gone through several modifications before arriving at a plan that was favorable to a majority of the commissioners.

The church has agreed to specific regulations pertaining to queuing in response to homeowner concerns about noise and increased traffic. Second story windows will contain permanent frosting to address privacy concerns. St. Laurence will also tear down an existing iron fence and build an 8-foot masonry fence a foot closer to the church, essentially giving homeowners an extra foot of property and preserving mature landscaping.

In addition, a certified arborist will work with the construction crew to protect mature trees on the site and a planting strip with trees at regular intervals will be added for additional buffer.

“I don’t think everybody is going to get everything that they want”, said Commission Chair Kathy Huebner. “I personally feel that St. Laurence has done a good job of addressing these issues”.

But three commissioners weren’t convinced.

“Why are we building an 8-foot fence? Why are we frosting glass? It is the elephant in the room to me. Obviously the building is too big or we wouldn’t have to do these things”, said Commissioner Heather Davis.

Commissioner Sue Sanchez told the commission that she had spoken to a realtor who told her that Colony Park homeowners could expect their property values to go down 10% to 15%.

“I cannot get over the fact that putting this building in this place is going to cost these property owners”, said Commissioner Sue Sanchez.

Commissioner Joan Berger said that putting a commercial sized building in a residential area is wrong and goes against the redevelopment plan that Sugar Land has for its older areas.

“I had really hoped St. Laurence would come forward with an alternate location that would conceal the parking”, Berger said.

St. Laurence had applied for a CUP because the property is now in a standard single-family residential district. There are two existing buildings on the site that were in operation prior to the land being annexed by the City of Sugar Land and the area being zoned residential.

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