By Betsy Dolan
A Sugar Land group determined to prevent more apartments from being built in the city has achieved a symbolic victory by collecting 1,501 signatures on their petition initiative which, in theory, should be enough to put the measure on the ballot.
But the signatures were never submitted to the city by the required deadline and a legal review conducted by the city last month determined that putting the anti-apartment initiative measure to a vote, even with the required signatures, violated state law and the language of the City Charter.
“The proposed initiative ordinance is a zoning ordinance because it would regulate land use,” said Doug Adolph, city spokesman. “State law specifies procedural requirements for zoning that must be utilized to address changes to land-use regulations.”
Now the Sustainable Sugar Land group, led by realtor Diana Miller, is switching their attention from the petition initiative to the 2013 city council election when four members, Amy Mitchell, Harish Jajoo, Bridget Yeung and Don Smithers, will be up for re-election.
“Can the city ignore 30% of the registered voters who are saying they do not favor high density apartments?” Miller posted on the Sustainable Sugar Land web site. “We will continue to build our support base through the next city council election.”
Miller, upset by the City Council’s approval of 1,625 multi-family units in Telfair, Riverstone and on the Imperial site, launched the petition drive in July that asked for an amendment to Sugar Land’s Code of Ordinances by adding a section limiting where multi-family dwellings could be built.
The initial effort collected 400 signatures and a second petition initiative was launched at the beginning of September. Shortly after, Miller received a letter from Sugar Land Mayor James Thompson alerting her to the city’s legal review regarding the petition initiative.
“The City of Sugar Land is denying our right to the initiative petition,” Miller said. “We have asked for the right to vote on the issue and they are denying that right.”
Adolph says City Council, staff and commissioners have worked diligently to limit multi-family development and influence the quality and standards expected in Sugar Land, even in areas outside the city limits where Sugar Land cannot regulate land use through zoning.
“Plans are currently underway to update Chapter 6 of the City’s Comprehensive Plan on Future Land Use,” Adolph said. “The City is planning an extensive public process to engage the community in this process. It is the city’s intent to invite residents to be a part of the city’s planning process which provides policy direction on various land uses.”
In the meantime, Miller is planning an event on Saturday to thank the 28 volunteers who helped collect the 1,501 signatures for the petition initiative. After that, she’ll be back in the anti-apartment fight.
“We’re going to support elected officials and candidates who will restore our primary zoning districts over the planned developments,” Miller said.