Some Residents Unhappy About Historic Imperial Building's Makeover

The city of Sugar Land was essentially born on the site of the Imperial Sugar refinery in 1908. A site which has been virtually untouched since the factory's doors closed in 2003. That was until a development company decided to make some changes — changes which the locals are not happy about.

 

 

 

Imperial Sugar is quite the Texas institution as you can hear from this 1964 commercial. And while the old sugar refinery site in Sugar Land may be a mere 45 acres of a 716 acre redevelopment plan, to locals like Bud Friedman it’s so much more than that.

"They had a school right over here and an auditorium right over here and elementary schools where my kids went to school, just a nice community."

Friedman looks fondly out his office window as he describes the site directly across the road.

Perhaps this is one of the reasons he chose to be co-chair of the Imperial Redevelopment Committee, or IRC, a group born under an umbrella of displeasure with a local developer.

Doug Johnson plans to turn the site into a mixed-use urban development with shops and restaurants but more importantly with apartments and therein lies the rub.

"For them to build 325 units, stacked four high abutting some of these neighborhoods that’s what’s really bothering people."

That’s not to say Freidman isn’t a fan of Johnson Development. He’d just prefer if there weren’t any apartments in the plan. And he’s not the only one. Diana Miller a local realtor, who has her own activist group Sustainable Sugar Land, plans to seek a referendum to rescind the original development plan.

"You cannot do a referendum on a zoning issue. The difference is that Sugar Land has a land use plan and they didn’t comply with it."

Miller is talking about a statement from local chemical plant NALCO, which is near the refinery site. She says the company recommended to Sugar Land city that no residential buildings be constructed near their plant.

Now it is only a recommendation and it may be a moot point, because as Sugar Land spokesperson Doug Adolph says, there’s already residential near NALCO.

"There’s the Hill, there’s Mayfield, there’s Brookside, Belnap. There is residential around NALCO, NALCO’s been there a long time."

There’s also a trigger for building these apartments. If phase one of the development, by the new Skeeter’s Ballpark, is 75% occupied, then phase two of the apartments at the refinery site will be built.

Imperial Sugar Towers and BuildingThe question is can the development survive without apartments? David Crossley with thinktank Houston Tomorrow says no.

"You have to have some density surrounding those businesses. Unless you’re assuming that everybody’s going to drive to them, and these developers are not assuming that. They’re assuming that these stores and all these commercial places can be largely supported by the people who live there that’s the point."

Sugar Land City Council approved the apartments last month.

Still activist Diana Miller is working this month on getting as many signatures as possible for a referendum. Should she succeed it will come before city council and the subject of apartments on the Imperial Sugar refinery site may be up for debate again.

Bio photo of Edel Howlin

Edel Howlin

Producer, Houston Matters

Edel is a producer on Houston Matters and reporter for PBS’s Newshour Weekend...