Sugar Land residents concerned about new development where Imperial Sugar refinery once stood

March 14, 2012 4:42:04 PM PDT
It's been more than a year since the Imperial Sugar factory in Sugar Land came tumbling down and now the land left behind is at the center of a controversy pitting homeowners against developers.

Developers want to bring luxury apartments, restaurants and shops to the area, but residents worry about the impact that could have on their own communities.

The city of Sugar Land says there is some bad information out there about this project and they want to set the record straight. Homeowners, though, wonder if the city is telling the entire story.

Janie Gonzales grew up in a house in the shadow of the Imperial Sugar refinery.

"This house, it means everything to me," Gonzales said.

Developers want to take 800 acres of land around the Imperial site and turn it into shops, restaurants, new homes and apartments. It's the latter that worries Gonzales.

"I've asked how they're gonna control the noise, traffic, everything -- I get no answers," said Gonzales.

The Sugar Land Planning and Zoning Commission recently approved unanimously a plan to move forward.

"The work that the planning and zoning commission did and compromise that the developer did has resulted in many of those concerns having been resolved," said Sugar Land City Manager Allen Bogard.

He says plans are in place to alleviate traffic congestion on the roads, even to create buffers between existing homes and apartments.

The current recommendation to City Council includes 625 apartments, the first 300 to be built near the new baseball stadium. If occupancy exceeds 75 percent, the developer can then construct another 325 closer to the old refinery.

The city says that's better than the prior plan, which limited construction to 459 apartments near the refinery site and contained no cap on the number of units built elsewhere.

"It's still more than the 459," said realtor Diana Miller.

Miller has gathered more than 2,000 signatures against it. She says the project is already hurting homeowners who live closest to the old refinery, who've tried to get their property appraised for a reverse mortgage or refinance.

"It could be valued at $30,000; it could be valued at $200,000. There's just too much uncertainty here," Miller said.

Some have even heard rumors of the city one day using eminent domain to take homes here. The city of Sugar Land insists it has no plans to do so.

The recommendation still must be discussed in a public hearing on April 3 and then voted on by City Council.