Dozens of residents packed into the Sugar Land City Hall Feb. 21 for more than four hours to voice their opinions on the Imperial Sugar Char House project, with many trying to halt the Char House's development.

The City Council agenda item in question was a rezoning request for the Imperial Historic District, which the City Council approved after the lengthy meeting. The request allows Houston-based PUMA Development to move forward with its plans for the district.

PUMA Development, an entrepreneurial firm that manages two mixed-use development districts called the Cannon and the Founders District, has been working with the city for more than a year to bring a development plan for the Char House and Imperial Historic District to the table.

Sugar Land approved a $5 million reimbursement agreement with PUMA on Jan. 1 for preconstruction and construction costs of the Char House. In addition, the city agreed to a lease agreement for a portion of the redeveloped Char House, once completed, to assist PUMA in securing private financing for the project.

If completed, the city has promised the project will breathe new life to the historic district. However, some residents have voiced disapproval of the project on a variety of issues, including a perceived shift away from single-family residential development and what they called a rushed agreement.

Meanwhile, city officials argued the project meets three goals from the city’s comprehensive plan, which is the project will create mixed-use activity centers, encourage residential options and celebrate Sugar Land by restoring historic buildings.

The rezoning ordinance was heard by the Planning & Zoning Commission during its Feb. 14 meeting. A 4-4 tied vote from P&Z members at the meeting marked the project as recommended for disapproval from City Council.

Resident input

Approximately 34 residents spoke during the Feb. 21 public hearing, with a mix of residents voicing support and opposition for the rezoning agreement or the project in general.

Some residents, such as Lorry Hill, urged the city to move forward with the project before the opportunity disappears.

“We have watched developers come and go,” Hill said. “However, this time, I feel the developer has a plan and a vision.”

Other supporters focused on the potential economic impact and opportunity to save the Char House.

However, residents in opposition of the project described the project as rushed, unrestricted development that threatens the single-family focus on Sugar Land’s residential communities.

“The city is moving this project forward faster than the data can support,” resident Diana Carlton said. “The city of Sugar Land is not listening to the voice of restraint, and this deafness is leading to at least one future for us: traffic lights, more signals and clogged streets.”

City Council responds

The comment section during the public hearing ran for over an hour, prompting the City Council to call a recess, after which more residents spoke and Mayor Joe Zimmerman introduced several dozen emails he had received into the public record.

“I have heard every single what if, could be, and what I’ve not had ... are details. I don’t have any details,” Council Member William Ferguson said. “This is my frustration—is it common that we have such a beautiful opportunity and I still don’t see details?”

Zimmerman pointed out the Char House redevelopment plan is still at “stage 0.” He said zoning plans are a two-step process, which include a general plan with little to no detail and a final development plan. Once the city approves the zoning ordinance, PUMA and the city can work on conducting traffic impact analyses and school attendance studies.

City Manager Mike Goodrum also advised the city to approve the rezoning ordinance.

“I would suggest that council approve it and move to the next step,” Goodrum said. “Let us do the traffic studies, let us do all the work, let us work with the community. But if the answer is no, then I need the council to know that their No. 1 priority [of encouraging development] is not going to happen.”

The ordinance passed 5-1, with Council Member Carol K. McCutcheon voting against the ordinance. Council Member Naushad Kermally recused himself from the vote and meeting on the grounds that he had private development ties with other firms in Sugar Land and wanted to avoid the appearance of impropriety.

The full meeting can be watched on the city of Sugar Land's YouTube channel.