Residents at odds over three times more residential units
By Elsa Maxey
Some Sugar Land residents are saying that Johnson Development came into this deal knowing a general plan was already in existence for the Imperial redevelopment project. “I say, keep the original plan with no changes,” states Diana Miller on a website she owns that protests the project. Miller, by the way, is running for city council against the incumbent District 1 Councilmember Don Smith, who has also expressed concerns about down scaling the number of multi-family units. “I will work to achieve a workable solution,” he said to the District 1 residents in a communication. “The site should be attractive and pleasant, plus spur economic growth for the north side commonly referred as Old Sugar Land,” said Smithers. Both Miller and Smithers live in the district where the project is proposed and Miller’s house is located back-to-back with the project.
While the review process for the project is in its early stages, it is no doubt in community input mode. A meeting held this Monday evening at Sugar Land’s Community Center turned out close to 300 residents, mostly from Sugar Mill. Johnson Development was reported to be a no show.
Miller tells the “Star” that the meeting was actually organized by Sugar Mill resident Alice Hillman who had concerns about the project. “She contacted Don Smithers after the initial Johnson Development meeting of Feb. 17,” said Miller. What followed were meeting arrangements modified by Miller, who requested a larger room at the community center to accommodate the resident crowd that was expected. She said she paid for the room since that was still pending, and did it because the residents were expecting to attend a meeting that both Smithers and Mary Von Tunglen were to have sent invitations to the community about attending. Miller said the meeting information, however, did not make it to the city’s website.
Doug Goff of Johnson Development told the “Star” that he understood that the meeting was initiated by Councilmember Smithers for the purpose of getting community feedback on issues related to the district, including the Imperial project. “We were invited just like everybody else and decided not to attend,” said Goff. He also said “we felt like we didn’t want to be a distraction to him (Smithers) and did not want to interfere with his election campaign,” adding that the program was not about us, but about the overall district.
In the meantime, Goff says there are plans for meeting with all the community leaders “with our revised plan that has changed.”
Miller said that at the meeting she kept hearing about how the property could end up sitting there and decline. “We are not saying Johnson should not be there,” but she says the residents want a hold on the proposed number of apartments that were approved in the 2007 plan. “We’re not anti development,” she adds, but says the concerned residents do not want the increased housing density.
There’s a rally planned on the steps of city hall for Tues., April 5, when the city council meets next. Imperial project protestors intend to be there with signs wearing their t-shirts. Among the areas of concern about the project is the potential of overcrowded schools, congested traffic, increasing crime, also whether there may be an adverse impact on property values, and this feedback is primarily for the part of the project with the multi-housing residential component.
The project proposed by Johnson Development and who was hired by Cherokee in 2009, had a Planned Development zoning application submitted to the city that showed an estimated 1,600 multi-family residential units, considerably more than the 494 initially proposed several years ago. The plan, however, also includes other more extensive components in the 700-acre property, such as the minor league stadium and related parking, which was not in the original layout.
All in all, Miller says, “Sugar Land should not be for sale to the highest bidder, particularly at the expense of the existing residents and our quality of life.”