Sugar Land’s Mayor Thompson and Councilmember Porter Weigh in on Wal-Mart Controversy
By S. Barot
For The Star
It’s no secret in Sugar Land’s District One that Wal-Mart applied with the Planning & Zoning Commission (P&Z) to open up a proposed neighborhood grocery store and fueling station. And even though many Barrington Place residents are fuming over what may come to the area, City of Sugar Land leaders are weighing in on the controversy.
“This is an ongoing process,” said Sugar Land Mayor James A. Thompson. “We are a zoned city, and that area on Alston and West Airport is a B-1 zoning designation. The neighborhood Wal-Mart has all the rights and privileges to be in that area.”
Thompson said that the city couldn’t deny Wal-Mart the space. They have the legal right to be there.
The main point of contention, though, is the proposed gas station that Wal-Mart wants to build. As mentioned in a previous article, Wal-Mart has applied for a Conditional Use Permit – which would allow for part of the property to be used for something (in this case, a fuel station) for which it normally wouldn’t be zoned.
“I don’t want large fuel tanks near my home,” said Debbie Ortiz, a Barrington Place resident.
District One Councilman Steve Porter agrees with Thompson about the fact that Wal-Mart has the right, as a neighborhood business, to use the property.
“It’s against the law for us to say ‘this property is only zoned for businesses we like,’” Porter said.
According to City of Sugar Land spokesperson Doug Adolph, state law and Sugar Land’s Development Code require that correspondence be sent to residents who own property within 200 feet of the proposed site. A “Notice of Public Hearing” document was sent to 22 area residents as well as the Barrington Place HOA.
Barrington Place HOA said the City of Sugar Land initially sent the notification for the April P&Z hearing to the Barrington Place clubhouse address, which is undergoing renovation. When the City became informed of that, it began sending all communication to the HOA’s Eldridge address.
The HOA said a Barrington Place resident notified them about the P&Z hearing in April and Wal-Mart.
In an email to the Fort Bend Star, Barrington Place HOA Board Member Ken Langer said that the document provided minimal information to area residents. Still, those who were adamant to not have a proposed grocery store and fuel station showed up at the public hearing and voiced their displeasure.
After hearing the community outcry against the fuel station, the Planning & Zoning Commission essentially told Wal-Mart that they would have to address the concerns of the Commission and the area residents.
As of now, Wal-Mart has not resubmitted an application to the City that would address the community or P&Z Commission’s concerns.
Thompson said that it is still unclear whether or not the P&Z will grant the fuel station CUP to Wal-Mart. He also said should Wal-Mart appeal to Council (if not approved by P&Z), he would have trouble voting for it if the concerns of the citizens and the Commission have not been addressed.
Both Porter and Thompson said that they have received correspondence from residents saying that they would like to see the proposed Wal-Mart and fuel station.
“I have received emails from Barrington Place residents who support this proposed project,” Thompson said. “They’ve said they would like to have a Wal-Mart there for grocery and gas.”
Porter also added that the correspondence that he’s getting is about 80 percent against the Wal-Mart grocery store and proposed fuel station and 20 percent in favor of the project.
Langer said that one person from the subdivision has come forward and contacted the editor of the Barrington Banner newsletter to write a piece in favor of the proposed Wal-Mart and fuel site the article is slated to appear in an upcoming edition of the newsletter.
It is still unclear whether Wal-Mart will move forward with the grocery store if both the P&Z and Council deny the CUP. But Spokesman Doug Adolph said that the store will have to meet all City Code requirements for landscaping, parking, access, screening, building and fire safety.
Porter also added that historically, grocery stores have struggled in District One. The only grocery store in the immediate area is Food Town on Eldridge and it’s not a high traffic store. And the fear of area businesses failing still looms over the District.
“As long as the tract of land is an open field and it’s maintained, then there’s always the possibility of something going there,” Porter said. “Once you have an abandoned building, there’s no way to get around it, that’s very negative.”