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Development is the Star’s top story in 2015

By Michael Sudhalter

TopTenEverywhere you look in Fort Bend County, houses are being built, schools are being constructed and businesses are opening up new locations.

Even with crude oil slipping, the impact on growth has been minimal.

And that’s why “Growth and Development” is the Fort Bend Star’s Top Story of 2015.

Fort Bend ISD will be opening Anne Sullivan Elementary this summer, and construction plans have already begun on other campuses, approved in last year’s bond.

The Hwy. 6 corridor in Sienna Plantation is seeing growth, with the number of homes expected to double by the time construction is complete.

Stafford and Street Level Investments (SLI) are moving ahead on a mixed-use development project at U.S. 59 and Kirkwood where Texas Instruments had its headquarters for more than 40 years.

Sugar Land is seeing growth in the mixed-use Imperial development, which will re-utilize some of the city’s older buildings into a retail, restaurant, hotel, and office area that will feature an Alamo Drafthouse in 2017.

With Sugar Land’s rapid growth, residents responded to make sure it’s being done responsibly. Upon those requests, the city moved to cap apartments at 200 per mile — even in a mixed-use development.

Nothing has been finalized, and the city will hold a public hearing on the matter on Jan. 12.

2. School Truancy

Perhaps no Fort Bend issue took as many twists and turns as School Truancy in 2015.

After a great deal of controversy, Fort Bend ISD announced in April that it was suspending its participation in the Fort Bend Truancy Court until further review — just weeks after FBISD Superintendent Dr. Charles Dupre defended the Truancy Program.

The criticism centered on the fact that minority students from low socio-economic communities were being disproportionately affected by the Truancy Court, and students were ending up in the County Jail as a result of missing Truancy-related court dates.

A group of attorneys, led by Sienna Plantation resident Deron Harrington, filed a non-monetary, class-action Civil Lawsuit against Fort Bend ISD and Fort Bend County officials, questioning the legality of the Truancy Court. They also filed a request for a criminal inquiry into the operation of the Truancy Court.

Fort Bend ISD responded with an updated policy, after Gov. Greg Abbott signed a bill decriminalizing Truancy, and according to county officials, the Truancy Court is in the process of transitioning to a Civil Court.

But FBISD drew criticism for maintaining its affiliation with the County’s “Saved By The Bell” anti-Truancy program, upon a vote last fall.

3. Alyssa Ferguson’s

Inspiring Story

Some of us think we may be having a bad day, but then all we need to do is read about the courageous efforts of Sienna Plantation teenager Alyssa Ferguson.

Ferguson, a Fort Bend ISD eighth grader, was diagnosed with a tumor the size of a baseball.

While enduring 20 rounds of outpatient Chemotherapy, nine rounds of in-patient chemo, 30 days of radiation and a surgery, Ferguson was presented with the opportunity to “Make A Wish” for anything she wanted through the local chapter of the “Make A Wish Foundation.”

Ferguson could have met any celebrity or traveled to any destination in the world, but instead, her wish was to help others — specifically to have a water well built for a village in Zimbabwe, Africa.

The residents of the village responded by recording a video to thank Ferguson for the wish that enriched their lives.

After reading the story in The Star, U.S. Rep. Pete Olson (R-Texas) was gracious enough to publicly share Ferguson’s story with his colleagues on the House floor.

The Fort Bend Community prays for Ferguson as she continues to battle Cancer.

4. HCC campus headed to Missouri City

Missouri City officials have been thinking of ways to re-energize Texas Parkway — once the city’s premier business corridor.

They hope the addition of a $21.5 million Houston Community College (HCC) in 2017 adjacent to City Hall on Texas Parkway will be a step in the right direction, and an asset to the prospective students in the area.

The campus will feature a Center for Entrepreneurship, Technology, and Health (CETH).

HCC currently has a campus near Sienna Plantation, but it’s being relocated, because the new site has a better chance for higher enrollment. That campus will be re-purposed as County offices.

The Texas Parkway campus was part of a collaboration between HCC, Missouri City, Fort Bend County and the George Foundation.

The campus plans became a reality after Fort Bend voters approved a facilities bond, authorizing Fort Bend County Commissioners to purchase the HCC Sienna campus for $8 million.

5. Ron Reynolds’ Trial

District 27 State Rep. Ron Reynolds (D-Missouri City), the House Democratic Whip, had a productive 84th Legislative Session, working on legislation ranging from Truancy Reform to a Body Camera Bill.

But the three-term incumbent’s legal saga continued.

After a trial was delayed in August, Reynolds stood before a Montgomery County jury on five misdemeanor counts of Barratry, colloquially known as “Ambulance Chasing.”

Reynolds was convicted and sentenced to the maximum penalty of one year in jail and a $4,000 fine.

He posted bond and is free, pending an appeal in Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in Beaumont.

Reynolds maintains his innocence, and the answer on his appeal won’t likely be answered by March 1 — the day of the Democratic Party Primary.

Reynolds will face three opponents in the primary — former Fort Bend Democratic Party Chairman Steve Brown and political newcomers Angelique Bartholomew and Christopher Henderson.

If none of the candidates reaches 50 percent, the top two will face each other in a May runoff election.

6. Importance of Fresh Food

The emergence of the Imperial Farmers Market in Sugar Land has shown why local residents value fresh, homegrown foods.

Other trends have supported Fort Bend residents’ interest in knowing where their food comes from.

Sugar Land resident Namita Asthana opened Off The Vine Bistro, a Farm-to-Table restaurant in Missouri City.

And Harvest Green, a new development in western Fort Bend County, will have a community garden, and the development is working with Daron Joffe, an expert on “farm and garden-based sustainability, health and wellness programs” to strengthen their fledgling community.

7. Oil’s Impact

In January, the Fort Bend Star did a series on the impact of low crude oil prices on the Fort Bend economy.

The conclusion was that the economy could be affected if the lag in prices continues, but experts are predicting a better year in 2016.

Schlumberger, an oil services leader, announced that it is relocating its world headquarters from Houston to Sugar Land, which should help the local economy.

Real Estate has remained strong, and the presence of a diversified economy beyond Oil/Energy has also helped Fort Bend.

We also found out that applications rise for public sector jobs when the Oil business is in a downturn.

8. Missouri City Manager

Missouri City had an interesting year, in terms of municipal management, with four different people serving in a “City Manager” role during 2015.

Ed Broussard, who had served as City Manager since 2011, announced that he’d accepted the Tyler City Manager position in late 2014 but stayed with Missouri City until March.

Former Pearland City Manager Bill Eisen served as Interim City Manager but left in May, officially saying that it was for scheduling reasons.

Assistant City Manager Bill Atkinson was promoted to Interim City Manager, while city council conducted a statewide search.

After naming three finalists, one of the candidates withdrew and the council decided not to hire the other two.

They set out on a national search that yielded three finalists, including Atkinson.

After initially splitting the vote between Atkinson and former Austin Assistant City Manager Anthony Snipes, the council came back and unanimously approved Snipes’ hiring.

Snipes began on Dec. 1, and is reportedly off to a strong start.

9. Fort Bend ISD Zoning

Because it happened so early in 2015, it’s easy to look back and forget.

But many Fort Bend ISD parents were concerned about zoning patterns that had their children re-zoned to schools outside of their respective neighborhoods.

The board approved zoning changes with a plan that kept most of the parents and communities satisfied, but the issues are sure to come up again, especially with school board elections coming up this spring.

10. Stafford Elections

We always hear cliches like “every vote matters” and “your vote could make a difference.”

Living in a deep-red state like Texas, it’s easy to get cynical that a Republican or Democratic vote won’t affect a Presidential election.

But Stafford citizens discovered the importance of “every vote” in two different May elections.

Then-Stafford Municipal School District Ettienne Zak, who had been on the SMSD board since 1998, lost by three votes to Manuel Hinojosa, and incumbent city council member A.J. Honore defeated challenger Jacqueline Jean-Baptiste by five votes.

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