Tucked behind Sugar Land’s Imperial Sugar Factory silos sits The Hill, one of the city’s oldest neighborhoods.
Mike Bunting purchased an original 900-square-foot pink and blue bungalow on Lakeview Drive in The Hill in 1977 after living in the neighborhood since second grade.
Now, Bunting and his wife, Carol Cooper, live in the restored home—with an updated paint job—and have been involved as city staff has been working with residents since September regarding what they would like to see for the future of the approximately 100-year-old neighborhood.
In recent years, residents and property owners in The Hill have voiced concerns over increased redevelopment activity as some homes are being torn down and rebuilt—sometimes much larger than the original home.
“There is a concern that if a home is demolished that the size of the home should be consistent with the other homes in the neighborhood,” Cooper said.
As the homes are aging and homeowners are revitalizing their properties, residents are becoming more vocal about preserving The Hill.
In the early 1900s, when Sugar Land was anchored by the Imperial Sugar Factory, the company provided everything from housing to medical care to its employees, according to the city.
There are 198 single-family residential lots in The Hill, according to Sugar Land’s 2018 Future Land Use Map.
The city reached out to The Hill residents in late 2018 to find out if there was a consensus regarding preservation of the neighborhood, District 1 Council Member Steve Porter said.
“The whole thing depends on the residents and trying to determine what the residents want,” Porter said.
Emily Bradley moved with her husband from Pearland to The Hill one year ago, she said. Bradley has provided feedback to the city.
“We should have some sort of measure to preserve the character of The Hill,” Bradley said. “We bought on The Hill because we loved the neighborhood, and we loved the historic houses, so it concerns us when we see the old bungalows being torn down.”
William Edmunds, a homeowner on Lakeview Drive, purchased his home nearly two years ago and has yet to live there. Edmunds said the house sat dormant for about one year after it was purchased, and renovations began about one year ago.
Edmunds said although renovations are taking place, there have been no additions or teardowns in the process.
“We were interested in downsizing,” he said. “We wanted a smaller home, and we liked that area because of the close-knit community, and that was the first place we wanted to look.”
The Hill Neighborhood Steering Committee, a City Council-appointed group of residents, has been analyzing feedback from resident survey results collected early this year. The window to provide feedback closed in February, and a public meeting is anticipated for July to discuss the results, according to the city.
“The Hill is such a neat area,” said Darla Fanta, a Realtor with Hometown America Inc. “I’m excited to see it being revitalized. Even rebuilds tend to have that same cottage look, and I like that. I’m excited to see it’s becoming more family friendly with the younger generation coming in with new families.”
Edmunds, who has lived in Sugar Land since 1984, said he does not want to see The Hill lose its small-town charm, and he also does not want a homeowners association to be created.
“I’m not a big fan of having an HOA, and I don’t want the city to come in as the big brother and create their own HOA, but I would like to see it stay true to what it is,” Edmunds said.
Bradley would like to see some guidelines regarding home size so the neighborhood can keep its small, bungalow-style aesthetic.
“Nobody wants to see overly strict or ridiculous regulations,” she said. “We just want common sense things that preserve the neighborhood. I don’t care about things like paint color. I think it would be great to incentivize preserving the original structure, but if a house does come down I think there should be some kind of building code that it needs to be built in the style that is consistent with the neighborhood.”
Cooper said she understands that some houses are so damaged that they are beyond the point of saving, but she said she would also like to see the bungalow style maintained.
“We don’t want to look like Bellaire. … We would like to keep the bungalow style,” Cooper said. “I would never want one of my neighbors to tell me how to take care of my property. That’s a respect that’s very much done as a given in this neighborhood rather than have an oversight committee telling us what color we can paint our house like an HOA.”
Although increased property values are welcomed by some homeowners in The Hill, others worry higher values and will make it more challenging to pay their annual tax bills.
In 1958—the year before Sugar Land incorporated—Imperial Sugar officials decided to sell the company-owned homes, giving employees first choice in purchasing their homes. Back then, employees could pay for their homes through payroll deduction, and some employees could pay for their homes in one lump sum, according to the city.
“When the families who had the opportunity bought their homes from the Imperial Sugar Company, they maintained them with the same pride and love that they always had,” Cooper said. “They were modest people in that what was going on inside their home was more important than making it bigger and grander.”
In 1977, Bunting purchased his home in The Hill for about $21,000.
Based on 2019 appraisals, the average home value in The Hill is $272,217, according to Georgia Moncrief with the Fort Bend Central Appraisal District. The median home value for the entire city of Sugar Land was $292,700 in 2017, according to U.S. census data.
“A lot of times these don’t sit on the market long in there—if it’s priced right especially,” Fanta said.
As property values in The Hill continue to increase, due in part to revitalization of the neighborhood, homeowners’ tax bills are increasing as well.
Bradley purchased her home with the impression the Imperial Market development, that has yet to break ground at the old Imperial Sugar Factory, would be completed by the time she and her husband moved in and worries her home value will decrease due to the project’s absence, she said.
From 2018-19 alone, the average homeowner has seen an increase of $447.98 on their property tax bill to more than $5,700, based on 2019 certified home values.
The median annual household income in Sugar Land, according to 2017 U.S. census data, is $108,994.
“The median income in Sugar Land is just that—it’s a statistic,” Cooper said. “It’s not always indicative of what people who have lived—particularly in this neighborhood—actually have as a family income.”
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