St. Laurence expansion approved by city council
By Betsy Dolan
Sugar Land’s City Council approved a conditional-use permit allowing St. Laurence Catholic Church to build an 80,000-square-foot education center and day-care facility on the southeast corner of Austin Parkway and Sweetwater Boulevard.
The unanimous vote came after a contentious 13-month process that pitted the growing church’s need for more space against near-by homeowners who say the large building will reduce property values and their quality of life.
“We have not been perfect, nor has the other side been perfect”, said Bill Hinckl, a member of St. Laurence’s building committee. “We do not want to ruin anyone’s quality of life. We hope we can get past this”.
Cindy Highsmith, who lives in the Colony Park subdivision and whose back yard will face the new $16.5 million building, told the council that the city’s promise to build a master planned community has been broken.
“At the end of the day, there will be an 80,000 square foot building–a commercially sized building–in a small area zoned R-1 residential. The precedent for Sugar Land is alarming”, Highsmith said.
Colony Park property owners, many of whom are St. Laurence parishioners, have repeatedly said they understand the need for the building but had wanted it moved closer to the street. The church has maintained that the building needs to be set back from the road to preserve parking and to help safely funnel pedestrians to the crosswalks.
The unanimous council vote came after St. Laurence agreed to certain concessions including building a masonry fence more than a foot inside the St. Laurence property line to save property owners’ mature landscaping, frosting second story windows, protecting several mature trees on the site and building an extra planter bed for added screening.
In addition, the church met with six of the eight affected property owners May 15 to alleviate any lingering tensions. The two sides hope to continue discussions about forming a parking and traffic committee.
City council member Amy Mitchell expressed sadness that an agreement couldn’t be reached between the church and property owners.
“Please be conscientious of the homeowners during the construction process”, Mitchell told church representatives. “I strongly encourage you to continue talks with (them)”.
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