By Betsy Dolan
After a legal review, the City of Sugar Land has decided that even if a petition initiative that puts limits on multi-family housing is successful in getting enough signatures, the measure will not go before voters because it violates state law and the language of the City Charter. Despite that decision, the group responsible for the petition initiative said they will continue their push for signatures this week.
According to a news release issued by the City, the petition initiative would not be able to go before voters because it is a zoning ordinance and would regulate land use and “state law specifies procedural requirements for zoning that must be utilized to address changes to land-use regulations.”
“Sugar Land has developed with great master planned areas,” said City Manager Allen Bogard. “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.”
In a response to the city’s decision, Diana Miller who heads Sustainable Sugar Land, the group responsible for the petition initiative, said the petition’s language was “carefully crafted as to avoid being a ‘zoning’ amendment. It does not change any zoning. It merely creates distance buffers to zoning areas.” In an email sent to the media, Miller reiterated that Sustainable Sugar Land used an attorney who is Board Certified in Commercial Real Estate Law to help them write the petition initiative.
Sustainable Sugar Land launched their petition drive this summer to change where multi-family developments can be built in the city but failed to get the required number of signatures in time. The group has filed the required documents to launch a second attempt and have two signing events scheduled in the next week.
The group’s main goal, according to Miller, is to oppose the “encroachment of high density urban development” within several communities in the area. The group is targeting 600 apartments approved off of Palm Royale in Riverstone, 400 apartments approved in Telfair and 625 apartments approved in the future Imperial master-planned community.
According to the City, apartment units in the year 2000 accounted for approximately 8 percent of the total number of housing units within the City. Based on the City’s projected build-out (including Telfair, Imperial, and Riverstone), apartments will remain just over 8 percent of total housing units in Sugar Land.
Miller provided the City with signatures of residents opposed to multi-family development from the first petition initiative. The City said it intends to invite those individuals as well as all residents to be a part of the City’s planning process which provides policy direction on various land uses.
“The City does not take getting 700-plus citizen signatures lightly,” said Bogard. “We want to learn more about the concerns of our residents and look forward to working together to develop our future Land Use Plan.”
But Miller is not happy with the City’s decision to prevent the petition initiative from being put to a public vote. She is urging those who oppose multi-family housing to make a statement in the May election when four City Council members will be up for re-election.
“We need to begin work now to identify candidates who will respect the voters of Sugar Land, enforce our Primary Zoning Districts and rescind the Planned Development District,” Miller said. “I am NOT running for any political office, but will work with concerned residents to find sincere candidates who will serve the community. Four new voices can save our community.”