3 things you missed at Sugar Land's City Council meeting

Phone, device use by drivers headed toward restricted use

Council members voted 5-2 on the first reading of an ordinance that would restrict drivers’ use of phones and mobile devices within city limits. Devices would need to be handsfree or Bluetooth-enabled while a vehicle is in motion.

“The idea is to get the device out of the operator’s hand,” said Assistant Chief of Police Scott Schultz.

Council members Mary Joyce and Amy Mitchell voted against its approval after Mitchell voiced concerns about the added workload on patrol officers resulting from the restrictions, and Joyce wondered whether allowing use of a device affixed to a car's dashboard wasn't dangerous in itself.

Schultz conducted a number of surveys and town hall meetings over the past several months to gauge whether the public supported any such restrictions. In a December presentation to City Council, Schultz said the majority of Sugar Land residents who participated in the town halls and surveys favored some level of support for restrictions.

Quizzed by council members on when and how a phone would be permissible to use under the ordinance, Schultz said the ordinance allows a driver to use a phone or device while a vehicle is in motion only when it is affixed, temporarily or permanently, to the vehicle, “such as by suction cups on windows or a holder attached to an air vent,” Schultz said. The ordinance does allow for hand–held use of a phone in an emergency, he said.

Schultz estimated that if the ordinance were approved on first and second readings, its effective date would be March 20, with a 90-day grace period with only warnings issued in that time.

Council Member Harish Jajoo asked about how police would prove the person had the phone in their hand.

“It’s like when an officer sees someone not wearing a seatbelt, the driver can put it on really quick,” Schultz said. “But when the officer see him without the belt, he can take action.”

When Joyce asked whether the city had found studies showing that using hands-free technology while driving does not affect safety, Schultz said he saw a lot of conflicting data in nearly a year of researching the issue.

“One study will say one thing, and the very next study will say the opposite,” he said.

Violating the ordinance would carry a penalty of up to $500 per offense.

For further coverage of the issue, click here.

Fitness center, grocery store approved for Crossing at Telfair

Council members voted 5-0 to allow the use of a “physical fitness facility” and a small “grocery/convenience store” in a plaza on University Boulevard just off Hwy. 6 in the first reading of an ordinance that would amend the planned development to allow the two uses.

The identities of the grocery store and health club were not revealed at the meeting.

The site is part of the Crossing at Telfair development that was approved in 2006.

Sugar Land’s Planning and Zoning Commission voted unanimously at its December meeting to recommend that city council amend the plan to allow the businesses. Conditions of the amendment call for the fitness center to be no larger than 10,000 square feet, while the grocery store may be no larger than 5,000 square feet.

The land is occupied by a two-story building that houses offices, a bakery and other retail outlets, Senior Planner Lauren Fehr said.

Fehr said the two uses would not have been problematic when the development was approved in 2006, but the developer simply didn’t request them at the time.

Council members Steve Porter and Amy Mitchell abstained from voting, pending the completion of a traffic study in the area that Porter requested after he voiced concerns about fast-moving cars coming over a nearby bridge.

5 lift stations to be repaired and rehabbed

Council members voted 7-0 to award a contract to Houston-based McDonald Municipal and Instustrial in the amount of $1,169,469 to perform repairs to five lift stations throughout the city.

Assistant City Engineer Jessie Li told council members the city received seven bids for the work, with McDonald’s being the lowest.

Work is scheduled to start on the stations, which help to collect wastewater, this month with an estimated completion date in December, Li said.

Li said the work would not require any interruptions of residents’ services.