By Betsy Dolan
A handful of concerned residents made one last attempt to try and change the minds of Sugar Land’s City Council in regard to a controversial plan to put 325 apartments on the old Imperial Sugar refinery property in Sugar Land’s historic district. Despite the opposition, the council voted unanimously to approve the General Plan amendment and Planned Development zoning on the second and final reading for the Imperial Development Project at their regular meeting on April 17.
“I’m extremely disappointed”, said Mikie Groscurth, who lives in the historic district and is a member of the Imperial Redevelopment Committee (IRC), who opposes the project. “I feel like our group has been accused of being negative for this development and that just isn’t true. I do not support the apartments but I do support this project.”
Leon Anhaiser, who worked at the Imperial Sugar refinery and has been one of the IRC’s most outspoken members, criticized the council for encouraging Planned Development (PD) over traditional R-1 zoning. He said while Planned Development might give the city more freedom, “it is a disaster for homeowners”.
“A PD really means public demise,” Anhaiser said. “Homeowners become a non-representing group where business interests will rule. PD’s have no rules, no safeguards. It is back to the wild, wild west.”
Former Sugar Land mayor, Bill Little, spoke out in favor of the project. Little who was Sugar Land’s second mayor from 1961 until 1964 said he understands that elected officials have to look at the larger picture and what a project might mean to all of its citizens.
“I think that is what this project is all about”, Little said. “It’s more than just one item. It is a whole group of items that will produce an attractive part of the community and make Sugar Land even more proud than it already is.”
By far the most contentious part of the Imperial Development plan has been the proposal to build apartments in two different phases in the area. Phase 1 would involve 300 apartments near Constellation Field and Phase 2 would include 325 apartments in the historic district near the Char House. The council’s approval on the second reading means Johnson Development is able to move forward with their project and according to Imperial Sugar Land General Manager, Shay Shafie, “create a community gathering place we can all be proud of.”
“Our goal from day one has been to be a good neighbor and create a first-class community,” said Shafie. “We’re appreciative of everyone’s comments.”
Despite a petition signed by over 2,000 concerned citizens and formal opposition to the apartments by homeowner’s associations in the area, the IRC wasn’t able to sway the council to move the second phase of apartments to the Highway 6 corridor. They have launched a petition drive to gain enough signatures to put a referendum to voters that would impose restrictions on all future apartments in Sugar Land that are proposed near residential areas.