Imperial Char House

The proposed redevelopment of the Imperial Char House and the surrounding area has drawn the concern of some residents.

With rumors swirling over the proposed redevelopment of the Imperial Char House and the surrounding area, the Sugar Land City Council and the city's Planning and Zoning Commission held a joint meeting January 24 to try to allay the public's concerns.

Earlier in January, the council approved a $5 million package to assist Houston-based PUMA Development in the long-sought redevelopment of the char house, perhaps the most iconic building in the city, which took its name from the Imperial Sugar Company. That would be the first step in redeveloping the entire surround area into a mixed-use development, anchored by the conversion of the char house into an office and retail building.

Since the redevelopment plan was first announced in December, residents on social media have expressed concerns that the possibility of multi-family housing would violate already existing codes for the redevelopment of the long-disused Imperial property.

Black residents have also expressed concerns that the redevelopment would not properly acknowledge the contributions African-Americans made to the area's sugar industry, which was the economic backbone of Sugar Land for nearly a century.

At the January 24 meeting, many residents spoke about their concerns, particularly over multi-family housing. Those concerns include an increase in population density, increased traffic congestion and a perceived potential for higher crime rates.

Mark Toon, PUMA's executive director, spoke extensively on the firm's ideas for the redevelopment

Toon said that The Canon, a co-working space and start-up incubator that would be the anchor tenant of the Imperial Char House, would attract young professionals who don't want to work in downtown Houston, much like central business districts across the country.

"A lot of these people that we've interviewed want to be in Sugar Land," Toon said. As those start-up businesses grow, they will hire new employees who want to live close to where they work, he said.

Lauren Fehr and Ruth Lohmer, both assistant directors of planning development services for the city, and Deon Rodriguez, deputy director for economic development, gave a detailed presentation on the proposed redevelopment for what is called the Imperial Historic District and the amendments to the city's land use plan that would be required.

Lohmer pointed out that the entire historic district is much larger than the proposed PUMA redevelopment plan for the Imperial property. Amendments to the city's land use plan that would be required for the project would include additional single-family and multi-family residential units, but those would be for the entire district, not just the area around the char house, she said.

The total number of multi-family units for the district would be 1,200, Lohmer said. The residential market has changed markedly since the pandemic, making the land use plan outdated, she said.

The city council has committed to extending up to $5 million to PUMA, over several phases, for the Imperial Char House redevelopment. Each phase would require PUMA, which does yet own the property, to meet certain deliverables, and all of the work product generated during the development process will be owned by the city.

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