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Sugar Land gets its own Ashby high rise drama: The Imperial Sugar Mill apartments fight

Sugar Land gets its own Ashby high rise drama: The Imperial Sugar Mill apartments fight

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The site of the Imperial Sugar Mill plant is at the center of the debate.  Houston Association of Realtors
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Diana Miller is the Sugar Land resident behind the protest.  DianaMiller.org
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The roadways in the area, Miller says, area already overcrowded, and the school classrooms too full.  SugarLandTx.gov
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Something is rotten in the City of Sugar, and Diana Miller won't have it. 

A realtor and a Sugar Land resident, Miller is outraged that the City Council has contradicted the planned community's master plan, loosening restrictions and limitations on high-density, multi-family residences within city limits. 

And she's not the only mad one. Miller, who spearheads the groups Sustainable Sugar Land and Stop Imperial Sugar Mill Apartments, says that she has thousands of other citizens on her side, fighting against apartment developments with a Power of Initiative and Referendum.

 If people really want to live in an apartment complex, Miller argues that they should just live in Houston.  

To do that, a petition must be signed by 30 percent of the voters in the last regular city election, or approximately 1,200 people. That's easy — an online petition she sponsored in opposition to the Imperial Sugar Mill apartments garnered 2,100 signatures — except that each petitioner must read all 117 pages of the city ordinance before signing.

In April, the city unanimously approved the rezoning of the 690-acre tract of land that includes the former mill despite significant community opposition. Now a Planned Development District, that tract is now home to the newly-opened Constellation Field, the home of the new minor league baseball team, the Sugar Land Skeeters.

There are plans for adding office buildings, bars and restaurants, as well as mixed-use, multi-family housing complexes with a maximum of 625 units (catering mostly to moneyed young professionals) to that tract.

That number, Miller tells CultureMap, is unsustainable: She argues that Sugar Land schools are already overcrowded, with some teachers saddled with as many as 40 students in the classroom.

The plot for the Imperial Sugar Mill space is bordered by two residential neighborhoods — Main Street, which already experiences substantial traffic flow issues; and the Ulrich Street loop, filled with primarily minority, low-income former employees of the mill, the inhabitants of which are already cut off traffic wise during minor league baseball games. 

"It's as if everyone has lost their sensibility," Miller said.

S he argues that Sugar Land schools are already overcrowded, with some teachers saddled with as many as 40 students in the classroom. 

Plus, she says, the city's 2005 Comprehensive Plan explicitly stated: "Representatives from Nalco [a chemical company with a plant along Highway 90, adjacent to the Sugar Mill site] have. . .  expressed concern that there be no residential uses immediately adjacent to their site." 

Nalco's "heavy industrial" zone designation mandates a transitional buffer zone area between it and residential developments, and the site's current Land Plan designates that buffer as a "Business Park," but Miller doesn't think that is enough. 

"How can you so blatantly ignore a safety issue?" she asks. 

Beyond that, Miller says that there is no need for more multi-family housing within the planned development. There is plenty in the extraterritorial jurisdiction surrounding Sugar Land city limits — and if people really want to live in an apartment complex, she argues that they should just live in Houston.

Miller believes that there must be more compromise between the developers (Johnson Development, which Miller says has contributed more than $60,000 to local politicians through its Responsible Government PAC) and the community. She hopes to get the referendum on the ballot by the November elections.