By Betsy Dolan
Residents who live near the old Imperial sugar refinery in Sugar Land’s historic district say they are resigned to the first round of 300 apartments that are slated to be built near Constellation Field as part of the Imperial Development project. It’s the second group of apartments, traffic worries, and uncertainties about what types of drinking establishments might go into the new entertainment hub that have them most concerned. Representatives from the historic neighborhood addressed the Sugar Land Planning and Zoning Commission as part of a public hearing January 26.
At issue are 625 high end apartments that would be built in two phases by Johnson Development Corporation. The first phase would be built near the ballpark along Highway 6. The Imperial Redevelopment Committee says if the second phase of apartments has to be built, put them along Highway 6 as well, instead of in the historic district.
“To me it is a slam dunk decision”, said Bud Friedman, Imperial Redevelopment Committee co-chair. “Instead of having overwhelming negative reaction to what is being proposed, work to make sure all 4,000 property owners in that area support the project”.
Moving the second phase of apartments to Highway 6 is something the city and Johnson Development are considering. Kathy Kuebner, Planning and Zoning chair, did express her concern to Johnson Development that the wording regarding when the building of the phase two apartments would begin was vague and “defied logic.”
“We might begin building Phase 2 when we don’t even know if Phase 1 is a success”, she said.
But Doug Goff with Johnson Development said commissioners and residents need to “trust the market”.
“It is a phase process. The marketplace will dictate the success of the first phase and it will get done incrementally. Renting will happen as apartments are being built. No prudent businessman is going to invest $30 or $40 million dollars on the second phase of an unsuccessful project”, he said.
Mikie Groscurth who lives in the historic district and is part of the Imperial Redevelopment Committee says she would like something a little more substantial than trust. She says the IRC plans to ask the city to require an amendment to the planned development.
“That way Johnson would have to come back to the city, ask where they would want phase two built and the process would start all over again”, she says.
In addition to the phase two apartments, Groscurth and representatives of the IRC also asked the city to prohibit free-standing bars in the development. The goal, they say, should be to maintain a family atmosphere.
“A place that serves alcoholic beverages and food…that’s fine”, Groscurth said. “We need a family historical area.”
Later, Kuebner in discussing the details of the larger plan with Johnson Development, expressed allegiance with the residents saying,”I can understand the residents concerns. If I were in their shoes I wouldn’t want a rowdy sports bar that close to my home.”
Kuebner went on to say that she is wondering about the possibility of allowing bars in the historic district but require a conditional use permit so the city would have the opportunity to see what is being proposed and to make sure it fits with the goals of the development.