The EpiCenter, a multi-purpose event and convention center Fort Bend County plans to build at the southeast corner of Southwest Freeway and Bamore Road in Rosenberg, is drawing the ire of some nearby residents who are worried that event traffic and parking will infringe upon their neighborhood.
A group of residents, led by Nancy Sparks and Olivia Bianchi from the Cottonwood subdivision, petitioned Fort Bend County Precinct 1 Commissioner Vincent Morales and Precinct 2 Commissioner Grady Prestage in a letter dated April 22. The petition, which asks the county to reconsider the location for the venue or provide a barrier between the building and the neighborhood, garnered more than 200 signatures.
In an emailed response, Morales said he had received the position and was understanding and receptive to the neighborhood's concerns.
"The developer plans to present its site plan recommendations to the city for comment," Morales said. "The developer looks forward to meeting with the residents to address concerns relating to traffic impact, drainage and noise associated with the center to minimize its effect on the community.”
During a Rosenberg City Council workshop meeting on May 25, Sparks said she and her neighbors had many concerns about the planned location of the venue. She said putting it directly on the other side of Southwest Freeway, which is mostly a commercial area, would be a better idea.
“We’re not against the EpiCenter at all,” Sparks said. “Where it’s being placed does not (make sense). We’re wanting to know basically, how is this going to benefit us, and how (might) it be a detriment to the 384 homes (in Cottonwood)?”
Sparks said Morales told her during a recent meeting that a four- or five-level parking garage and a hotel would be built to accommodate the 2,500 parking spaces that have been allotted in the preliminary plat.
“It’s a bad design when you have seating for 10,000 people and you allot 2,500 parking spaces,” Cottonwood resident Toni Jansen said during the council meeting. “There’s nothing depicted about a hotel and a parking garage (in the plat) or on the county’s website. Overflow parking will just of course go down the closest route, down Bamore, and perusing our streets for places to park. There’s nobody in this room that would love to have that happen to their neighborhood.”
Jansen echoed Sparks in that she was not opposed to the EpiCenter, just its location, adding that she felt there were better parcels of land available.
Sparks said residents are also worried about drainage as she said streets have started to flood more often after the county built a transit center and a medical examiner’s office that has affected the detention pond and levee that held firm even during Hurricane Harvey in 2017.
Bianchi said she wanted to know who would redirect traffic during events held at the EpiCenter and that the city should prioritize the safety of children in the neighborhood and access for emergency vehicles.
“How is the city going to support us?” Bianchi asked. “(How will we know) whether we’ll be able to come home or if we need to leave, we’re able to leave to get where we need to.”
Sandra Burnett, another Cottonwood resident, said her neighborhood is already adversely affected from traffic from the Fort Bend County Fairgrounds and other nearby events.
“I hope that you’ll look into these concerns that we have,” Burnett told the council, “and take into account that as it is, residents sometimes cannot get into their homes.”
District 1 city council member Isaac Davila said the city will have a fire station and EMS vehicles nearby to address concerns about emergency response times being affected by a surge in event-related traffic.
Travis Tanner, the city’s executive director of community development, said during the meeting that while the facility is a county project, the county is still required to follow Rosenberg regulations for platting, plan review, permitting and inspection.
The county has provided the council and Rosenberg residents with a preliminary plat as well as a timeline of the process leading up to construction beginning on Nov. 18, if it proceeds as scheduled. The facility is scheduled to be completed by the end of 2022.
The total development cost of the project is expected to be $120 million.
Tanner also said the city does not have a zoning ordinance that would disallow the project in its current location.
The final plat for the project will require approval from the city council.
On May 21, the project began its design phase, and the county has been conducting analyses of offsite drainage and a Traffic Impact Analysis (TIA).
Alicia Casias, the at-large council member for Position 2, asked to clarify whether or not the exits and entrances designated in the preliminary plat — currently set for Bamore Road — were set in stone.
Tanner said the county will still have the opportunity to change the entry points or consider other alternatives to the EpiCenter after it completes its analysis. He said it was still unclear whether or not the main entrance to the building’s grounds would be off of the Southwest Freeway frontage road.
According to the project schedule, which was dated May 17, the county will develop preliminary plans for offsite drainage improvements this week. On July 21, the county is slated to submit a proposed offsite drainage improvement plan to the city for permitting.
“Traffic is going to be a major concern for people that live there,” said Tim Krugh, the at-large Position 1 city council member. “And so we’re definitely going to have to watch that very closely.”
The next opportunity for residents to make their voices heard will be during a June workshop when county officials will be expected to make a presentation updating residents on the status of the project. A date for the June workshop was not set as of Monday.