Real Estate 2012
Sugar Land tussle

The case for the Imperial Sugar Mill Apartments: Development will preserve history and improve amenities, city official vows

The case for the Imperial Sugar Mill Apartments: Development will preserve history and improve amenities, city official vows

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The city of Sugar Land was built up around the Imperial Sugar Company mill and refinery.  Photo via Facebook
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The final plan for the Imperial Sugar Land development was approved in April.  Courtesy of City of Sugar Land
Imperial Sugar Land_factory_mill
Imperial Sugar Land_tract_map

The Imperial Sugar Land development has received a lot of criticism over more than five years of development. Much of that, says City of Sugar Land assistant communications director Doug Adolph, is due to misinformation. 

Once the headquarters, main refinery and distribution center of Imperial Sugar, the plant was left vacant in 2003. City officials and citizens alike worried about the future of the historic site until Cherokee Investment Partners bought up the property from the mill in 2005 and developed a joint venture with the Texas General Land Office, which held the abutting Tract 3, in 2006.

That partnership helped to justify a cost-prohibitive redevelopment of the industrial site for non-industrial use, and maintained the city's primary objectives: Historic preservation with a mixed-use complex that would enhance economic development in the area. 

 A final plan, approved in April of this year, limits the number of luxury apartments in the Imperial Sugar Land development to 625 units.

 In 2007, Cherokee and Southern Land Company submitted the first general plan for the space — one that proposed 459 luxury apartments in the historic district, which includes the Imperial Mill land as well as the small tract surrounding the nearby water tower, plus unlimited apartment units alongside Highway 6. The City Council approved the plan

Then the economy turned sour, and the project was deemed too risky. 

After cutting ties with Southern Land, Cherokee and its new partner, Johnson Development Corporation, submitted a revised plan in 2009, which proposed a cap of 1,950 luxury apartment units. 

The City of Sugar Land's planning and zoning commission thought that number too high, and Johnson Development was asked to further downsize.

A final plan, approved in April of this year, limits the number of luxury apartments in the Imperial Sugar Land development to 625 units — a Phase I of 300 apartments near the new home of minor league baseball's Sugar Land Skeeters (Constellation Field), with an opportunity to consider a Phase II (consisting of 325 units) on the Imperial Sugar Mill property once 75 percent occupancy has been reached at the ballpark site. 

Opposition to this in favor of the 2007 plan, Adolph says, is absurd. "We're well under that original number [of 459] within the historic district."

Adolph sees a great need for apartment units within city limits. Apartment dwelling units are projected to account for less than nine percent of total dwelling units in Sugar Land (in other cities that number is closer to 30 percent) at total build-out. Moreover, every apartment within city limits has maintained a 90 percent occupancy rate (or higher), even throughout the economic downturn. 

"It's difficult to make the case that there is a proliferation of apartments in Sugar Land," Adolph tells CultureMap. 

The planned Imperial Sugar Land development incorporates all of the original goals — historical preservation, a space for cultural arts, a business park, a destination activity center with retail and dining — and more. Adolph says that this formula will not work without the apartments, which lend density to the area. 

 "This development is going to be outstanding," Adolph says — one that will preserve history and improve the current amenities of neighborhoods surrounding the development.  

Adolph promises that approval of the land use plan doesn't mean that the developer has free reign over the rest of the process. Rather, each aspect of each individual project will come back to the planning and zoning commission, from building finishes to set-back distances.  

The city has done its best to mitigate misinformation through media outlets, public meetings, Home Owners Association meeting, social media and direct mail and more, Adolph says. Still, as detailed in a previous CultureMap story, neighboring communities believe that the city and developers will degrade the streets and parks, deflate the value of their homes and use imminent domain to take away their property. Many of those concerns have been addressed and refuted in an FAQ section on the city's website, Adolph says.

"This development is going to be outstanding," Adolph says — one that will preserve history and improve the current amenities of neighborhoods surrounding the development.