Developer, city hold public meeting to display new plan
The message came through loud and clear last Wednesday at a meeting hosted by Newland Communities and the City of Sugar Land to give residents a look at revised preliminary development plans for the southeast corner of Highway 59 and University Boulevard near the Smart Financial Centre.
Although there were no plans for apartments included in the revised plan and repeated assurances from presenters that apartments would never be included at the development site, many of the more than 150 people crowded into the meeting room at the University Branch Library still asked questions and voiced opposition to apartments being built there.
The opposition stems from a 2015 proposal by Newland that would have included 900 apartments on the Telfair Tract 5 property. That plan was met with fierce opposition and quickly scrapped. The purpose of the meeting Jan. 10 was to have an informal gathering where Newland Communities could present their revised plan to the public and receive feedback before taking the plan to the city to begin the lengthy approval process.
What Alan Bauer, Senior Vice President of the Central Region for Newland Communities, presented is a 95-acre entertainment district that includes two hotels, a conference center, community theater, medical center, office and retail outlets, parking garages and an age-restricted senior independent living community.
“What we are calling it is an office and entertainment-centric development,” Bauer said. “It consists of offices, retail establishments, parking structures, a hotel site … and what it doesn’t have is multi-family developments.”
It’s the senior independent living community that most concerned residents in attendance. Several people voiced concern about a “bait and switch” to later have the senior living turned into apartments.
“There is no switch and bait going on,” Bauer said. “It’s going to be age-restricted, much like a Del Webb (senior living community).”
Sugar Land Mayor Joe Zimmerman also addressed concerns about apartments, saying that the city stipulated that the project cannot include multi-family housing and adding that the city will not build apartments on city-owned property north of the Smart Financial Centre that is being reserved for future development.
Bauer gave a brief history of the project, explaining how Newland Communities took input from the public and the city from the previous presentation and revamped it into the proposal they rolled out that night. He then turned the meeting over to Hal Sharp, a principal with the Gensler design firm, to go over more specific details of the project.
“We’ve made it pedestrian friendly and a more walkable development,” he said. “One of the key drivers is the walkability of the site.”
He said they reduced the height of office buildings down to about four levels, shrank the number of parking garages, added space for a second hotel and rearranged the layout.
“Instead of having one hotel we contemplate two. The city is interested in having one on the city side of Lexington and the private investment side could potentially have a second hotel,” he said.
Sharp said the medical center has already been spoken for.
“The property has been purchased by MD Anderson. They plan to build some sort of health facility there,” he said.
Sharp explained that the new plan is better coordinated with the city-owned developments across Lexington Avenue by Smart Financial Centre.
“It’s a much more cohesive development between the two properties,” he said.
All told, he said there would be, “around a million square feet of office space in the entire development. Building heights are being concentrated around the central area.”
Another area of concern for residents is traffic. There were complaints that Lexington is difficult to navigate, especially when there is a major event at the theatre. Residents were concerned that there were not enough roads to accommodate the increased traffic in the area. Newland and city officials said that part of the plan will undergo extensive scrutiny and be addressed before anything is approved. It is estimated that it will take more than a year to go through the permit application process before any construction can begin. That will include public hearings, city staff review and approval from Planning and Zoning before it gets before the city council.
For more information about the project, to leave comments or to view the plan, visit www.sugarlandtx.gov/telfair.