Rumor versus Fact 2015 - 2016

Rumor: The City should or can hold a referendum election regarding the use of red light cameras.

Posted on June 22, 2016 | link

State law and City Charter does not allow Sugar Land to call a non-binding referendum election to gauge public opinion. To do so would require an election to amend the City Charter. The Texas Constitution, Article XI, Section 5 (b) provides that “…no city charter shall be altered, amended or repealed oftener than every two years.” On May 7, a city charter election was held; therefore, an election cannot be held to amend the city charter sooner than Nov. 6, 2018.

A Secretary of State legal opinion posted at http://www.sos.state.tx.us/elections/elo/gsb5.PDFexplains that a non-binding referendum cannot be held.

Classification of the senior independent living facility use (Telfair Tract 5 PD zoning application)

Posted on May 27, 2016 | link

The City classifies senior independent living facilities as a Residential Care Limited to Homes for the Aged, and Rest Homes (SIC 8361) per the City’s Land Use Classification Matrix.

Included in the recently submitted Telfair Tract 5 Planned Development zoning application (proposed by Newland Communities) is an option to locate a senior independent living facility that will not only have an age-restricted requirement, but other requirements such as a required common dining facility, and optional transportation, housekeeping, and other services and features. The proposal is similar to a project in the Imperial development, known as The Overture. This is not considered in the same category as standard multi-family housing.

PD approved, age-restricted senior independent living facilities can be converted

Posted on May 27, 2016 | link

No, an age-restricted senior independent living facility approved through Planned Development (PD) cannot be converted without a public hearing and zoning amendment to the PD ordinance.

Ordinance 2014 doesn't allow two-story buildings under urban requirements

Posted on March 16, 2016 | link

The City has complete control through the Planned Development zoning process.  The Planning and Zoning Commission has the ability to recommend and the City Council can approve a Planned Development that does not meet the criteria listed under either a suburban- or urban-style Planned Development per Chapter 2, Art. II, Part 5, Sec. 2-133:

“4.  The Commission may recommend and Council may approve a PD that does not meet all of the above minimum requirements if they find that the proposed PD establishes a high-quality development and offers unique or special benefits to the community.

“5.  At the discretion of the Commission and Council, additional requirements based on site specific conditions may be applied to a GDP and FDP.”

These two subsections allow for discretion on the part of the Planning and Zoning Commission and City Council when evaluating PD zoning applications.  A PD enables the creation of customized land uses and regulations.  This provides the ability to ensure that these developments are compatible with nearby areas; it’s a process that standard zoning can’t accommodate.  Planned Developments include a site layout plan that provides a level of certainty regarding future development of property.  Customized height regulations were created for PDs to enhance the existing buffer between the development and adjacent single-family residential areas.  Examples include the Fluor development and commercial areas north of U.S. Highway 59 in Telfair.

Does Ordinance 2014 violate state law and the City's Comprehensive Plan?

Posted on March 10, 2016 | link

Ordinance 2014 included updates to the Development Code. A summary of the revisions is posted at http://www.sugarlandtx.gov/DocumentCenter/View/9861. The Sugar Land Development Code is a regulatory tool to implement the City's Comprehensive Plan. The code provides the basis for the review of projects submitted by a property owner wanting to alter or develop property within the City. Components of the Development Code include zoning, sign, subdivision, building, airport zoning, and flood damage reduction regulations.

Changes made to the Code through passage of Ordinance 2014 are consistent with the City’s Comprehensive Plan.

A comprehensive plan includes a set of master plans that have implications for land use, transportation and public facilities, including possible future capital improvements, development regulations or major policies.

The Land Use Plan is one of the City's eight master plans. It is documented as Chapter 6 of the City's Comprehensive Plan. The Land Use Plan documents policy direction and gives guidance to City Council, the Planning and Zoning Commission and staff when making land use decisions.

The Land Use Plan provides guidance on site-distance restrictions and limits on the total number of multi-family units when higher-density developments are regulated through standard zoning districts, such as the R-4 multi-family residential zoning district.

Another way multi-family can be developed in the City is through the Planned Development (PD) zoning process. The Land Use Plan provides minimal guidance on the development restrictions that should be considered through the planned development process. It specifies that density and quality can be addressed through the review of planned development applications on a case-by-case basis and that the City should encourage non-single family residential uses to be developed under the Planned Development rezoning process to influence a high quality of design. Specifically, the Land Use Plan addresses this in the Planned Residential and Mixed Use sections.

Read more about the Land Use Plan at www.sugarlandtx.gov/DocumentCenter/View/438 and the Comprehensive Plan at www.sugarlandtx.gov/index.aspx?NID=542.

Does the City plan to make Brooks Street a one-way street?

Posted on March 10, 2016 | link

No. A very small portion of Brooks Street between U.S. Highway 90A and Kempner Street will be restricted to one-way traffic. This is intended to ease congestion and improve traffic flow caused by trains, vehicle queuing and additional modifications being made in order to accommodate the Wood Street crossing closure. The change will be implemented as part of the University North extension project that is currently under construction and in coordination with the Imperial Market development. All of Brooks Street south of US 90A will remain a two-way street.

Is Sugar Land's water supply safe?

Posted on February 23, 2016 | link

Dr. Joe Anzaldua, Sugar Land’s health authority, is confident that Sugar Land’s water supply is safe. He offers the following:

“The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulate public water systems in Texas and have set stringent guidelines for high quality water standards. The City of Sugar Land’s Public Works Department continues to meet or, in most cases, exceed those standards. We continue to sample, test, and monitor water quality on a regular and ongoing basis.

“The discovery of toxic levels of iron and lead in the water supply of Flint Michigan has recently been in the news and not surprisingly has caused some concerns amongst our citizens. The City of Sugar Land’s Public Water Systems monitor lead levels (and other potential toxins) in our drinking water on a frequent basis pursuant to guidelines set forth by the TCEQ. Our most current data with respect to sampling of lead in our water supplies is significantly below the action level set by the EPA. Results from lead monitoring are published in the annual Water Quality Report, which is located on the city’s website at http://www.sugarlandtx.gov/publications.

“Be assured that the City of Sugar Land has always and will continue to meet or exceed water quality standards set by federal and state agencies responsible for water quality oversight, as well as provide and protect high quality drinking water supplies to the residents of Sugar Land. In fact, in 2014 the City of Sugar Land was recognized by the TCEQ for having a superior public drinking water system. We will continue to strive for similar high ratings in the future.”

For more information, please visit our annual Water Quality Report, located on the city’s website at http://www.sugarlandtx.gov/publications

The City of Sugar Land is seeking to STOP CITIZENS’ RIGHTS TO PETITION!

Posted on February 4, 2016 | link

A Charter Review Committee comprised of five citizens met in 2013 and made recommendations to City Council in the spring of 2014. The committee made eight recommendations.

One recommendation seeks to clarify language and consider petition percentages that are equal for initiative, referendum and recall. The citizens’ recommended that petitions be signed by at least 15 percent of the registered voters in the City as of the initial petition date for initiative, referendum and at-large council member and mayor recall elections and that the petition be signed by at least 15 percent of the registered voters residing in the district as of the initial petition date for single-member district council member recall elections.

Petition requirements in the current charter set a minimum standard of 30 percent of the voters who voted in the last election for initiative, 25 percent of total registered voters for mayor/at large recall and 20 percent of registered district voters for single-member district recall.

Charter members said initiative petition standards shouldn’t be predicated on a single election that could have very few participants. They added that convincing 1.5 of 10 people is a fair amount to bring an initiative petition to the city. The citizens serving on the commission recommended including the items on the May 2016 election; they reasoned that at-large and mayor elections would ensure the largest possible turnout.

Voters will ultimately decide whether to approve the commission’s recommendations. Watch the complete presentation at http://vs.sugarlandtx.gov/010516cc/6a.mp4. The following chartprovides a comparison of current Charter requirements to the commission’s proposed changes.

Petitions
Click to enlarge chart >>

About the Charter
In 1981, Sugar Land citizens voted to adopt the City’s first home-rule charter. By converting from a general-law city to a home-rule city, citizens chose to exercise their right under the Texas Constitution to make local laws to govern their own affairs. The charter is the City’s ‘constitution’ and cannot be amended except by approval of the voters and not more than every two years.

The charter is a document that establishes the form of government for Sugar Land. This includes provisions for a council-manager form of government, legislative authority of City Council, general elections provisions, finance provisions and several other areas outlining the governance of Sugar Land. The charter is available online at www.sugarlandtx.gov/index.aspx?NID=483.

The charter review commission is a vital part of city government. The commission is appointed by City Council and composed of qualified, dependable and effective individuals who reflect the diversity of the community. Members of the commission are expected to have a background knowledge and expertise that recognizes and understands the legal complexities of the government structure. They are expected to be representatives who will bring forth neutral perspectives that promote and support the goal of effective local government.

The City of Sugar Land used taxpayer money to oppose statewide Open Meetings regulations.

Posted on February 3, 2016 | link

The City of Sugar Land has never participated in an attempt to oppose Open Meetings regulations, nor were any tax dollars used for such a purpose.

A group of elected officials challenged the law in 2009 on the basis that open meetings laws stifle free speech for government officials and subject them to criminal penalties for talking business in informal settings.

The public officials from 15 Texas cities, including one former Sugar Land City Council member acting independently of the city, argued that open meeting laws criminalize political speech. The officials argued that while they supported open government, the open-meetings act outlawed such behavior as simply talking to a colleague about a matter on a city council agenda.

In 2012, a Federal court ruled that Texas law doesn't violate the rights of politicians. The three-judge panel said the law promotes the disclosure of speech and does not restrict it.

The City of Sugar Land was not part of this lawsuit, though a former member of Sugar Land City Council participated in the lawsuit on his own.

Homeowners’ property taxes are going up because of the Performing Arts Center.

Posted on January 29, 2016 | link

No general fund tax dollars will be spent on the Smart Financial Centre at Sugar Land, a project identified by residents. A 2007 Citizen Visioning Task Force included a performing arts center among its cultural and entertainment venue recommendations.

In a 2008 special election, voters authorized the 4A Corporation as the primary funding source to utilize sales tax revenue to fund the Performing Arts Center. Based on this approval and the City’s goal to create a financially feasible, operationally self-sustaining venue, the estimated $84 million Smart Financial Centre will be funded through a unique package of special funding sources. 

  • The City’s partner, ACE, will make a $10-million equity contribution to the project.
  • A portion of 4A Corporation sales tax revenues that may only be used for economic development purposes and a portion of hotel occupancy tax funds that are restricted to tourism initiatives will be dedicated to the project.
  • Rent revenues generated by the facility will also fund the Performing Arts Center. 

A feasibility study conducted shows the Smart Financial Centre alone will provide an annual benefit to the Sugar Land community of $26.1 million or a return of $572 million during 30 years. The studies also supported that the performing arts venue in Sugar Land will promote capital investment, create new jobs, enhance educational opportunities and create unique destination activities attracting local and regional visitors.

The economic development strategy for the venue was structured to establish Sugar Land as a destination location for culture and entertainment as well as creating an amenity that is commercially self-sustainable.

350 apartments are planned for The Promenade at U.S. Highway 90A and State Highway 6

Posted on January 29, 2016 | link

There are no apartments planned in the Promenade at Telfair and no approved or proposed zoning that would allow any additional apartments to be built there.

There are no development applications for multi-family apartments in the Crossing at Telfair which includes the Promenade. The Telfair General Land Plan does not provide the ability for residential options on this property.

A new planned development zoning application was submitted to the City on Nov. 12 for the Promenade’s remaining acres. The application includes retail, restaurant, hotel and office. There is no multi-family included in this application or any of the previously approved applications for adjacent land.

City staff is currently reviewing the zoning application. If the application advances past City staff’s review, public hearings will be required at both the Planning and Zoning Commission and City Council prior to approval.

The City is aware of the developer's marketing website that includes a project rendering that shows multi-family use on the property. The Telfair General Land Plan or approved or proposed zoning on the property does not include multi-family residential. 

It is a conflict of interest for City Council members to also serve on the SLDC Board of Directors.

Posted on January 26, 2016 | link

As provided by state law and in accordance with the Sugar Land Development Corporation(SLDC) bylaws, Sugar Land City Council members are appointed to serve on the SLDC. This is intended to increase accountability for the expenditure of sales tax dollars and oversight of powers such as eminent domain and the freedom to procure goods and services outside of the typical state-required municipal purchasing process, both of which are powers of the SLDC. The City is ultimately more accountable to the general public when individuals elected by residents make decisions on the use of tax dollars. Further, City Council retains final oversight authority and must approve all programs and expenditures of the corporation per state law; this is accomplished through the City’s annual budget process.

Seven directors are appointed by City Council to serve two-year terms. Though the SLDC is a non-profit organization, it has the power to collect and expend tax funds, a responsibility that neither the SLDC nor the City of Sugar Land (as the authorizing municipality) takes lightly -- the corporation has overseen more than $80 million in sales tax collections since its creation in 1993.

Read more about the SLDC

Ordinance 1922 allows a Council member to vote on issues where there may be a conflict of interest.

Posted on January 25, 2016 | link

In 2006, City Council adopted an Ethics Ordinance to supplement state law and provide clear direction to City officials on matters such as conflicts of interest.
One such provision required a City official to always abstain from participating in matters that come before them during Council meetings that may have a special economic effect on a public or private business entity where the Council Member holds a policy making position. However, there are boards of organizations where Council Members are appointed by the City Council to serve.

An example would be a City official serving on the Sugar Land Heritage Foundation. Their bylaws state the City of Sugar Land will appoint two of the six appointed directors. In City Council Policy, it states a City Council Member shall fill one of the City’s positions, and a City staff member will fill the other position.

This means a Council Member would be required to recuse him or herself of any participation on matters related to the Sugar Land Heritage Foundation even though he/she was appointed by the Council to represent the City and it is outlined both in the Heritage Foundation’s bylaws and City Policy.

In July 2013, a change was made to remedy this conflict, but only for those by City appointment. Any conflicts that the Council Member would have unrelated to their capacity as a Council Member would still require abstention from discussion and voting. 

Can a referendum petition be used to amend zoning or eliminate zoning regulations?

Posted on November 13, 2015 | link

A legal analysis by one of the state's leading authorities on land-use law was recently performed to determine the impacts of a recently circulated referendum. The referendum petition requested the City to repeal Ordinance No. 2014, which contains Sugar Land’s zoning regulations. 

Robert F. Brown, of Brown & Hofmeister, L.L.P., is a recognized expert in land use and zoning laws. He provided the following analysis. 

  1. The referendum petition circulated in Sugar Land was worded in a way that attempted to repeal Ordinance No. 2014 in its entirety, which would result in the elimination of Sugar Land’s zoning regulations.
  2. State law does not allow the use of initiative or referendum to amend zoning regulations.
  3. State law and City Charter prohibits the use of referendum or a charter election to repeal Ordinance No. 2014 (which contains Sugar Land’s zoning regulations) in its entirety. If an illegal election was called and voters decided to repeal Ordinance No. 2014, the result would not resurrect a prior version of Sugar Land’s development code.

Read the entire analysis.

What is the timeline of events reaching to the passing of Resolution No. 15-37 by City Council?

Posted on November 13, 2015 | link

Friday, October 16
Sugar Land suspends a planned development application in Telfair because it did not meet the requirements of the City’s new Development Code.

Tuesday, October 27
Mayor James Thompson is notified by Newland Communities that the planned development application for property near University Boulevard and U.S. Highway 59 will not include apartments.

Tuesday, October 27
Mayor James Thompson holds a meeting with a grass-roots citizen group (not the Sugar Land Votes group) which represented seven neighborhoods near the location where Newland Communities applied for a Planned Development zoning district that included 900 apartments as an optional use on the property.

Friday, October 30
The Land Use Task Force meets for discussions of land use issues. Two members of the task force – Councilmembers Joe Zimmerman and Harish Jajoo – discussed input they had personally received from numerous Sugar Land residents, echoing the same issues and concerns. At the meeting’s conclusion, Jajoo and Zimmerman asked for a resolution addressing residents’ concerns to be placed on the upcoming City Council agenda.

Tuesday, November 3
Sugar Land City Council approves a resolution directing the Planning and Zoning Commission to consider the removal of recent updates to the City’s Development Code pertaining to Planned Development (PD) Districts and the addition of a provision limiting multi-family in planned development districts to a maximum of 200 units.

Rescinding the updated development code to fall back to the old one

Posted on November 13, 2016 | link

The City’s Development Code provides the basis for the review of all requests to alter or develop property within the City of Sugar Land. Eleven chapters make up the Development Code and include regulations on the control and the use of land and buildings (known as zoning), signs, subdivision of land, building standards and flood damage reduction regulations.

In an effort to make the Code more user-friendly, bring the Code in line with state law and further implement City master plans, updates were approved in July 2015 via Ordinance 2014. 

A petition being circulated in our community would have the effect of rescinding Ordinance 2014 and Development Code. The petition’s success would leave the City unprotected with no development regulations for at least one year. The previous Development Code would not automatically be reinstated.

Secret, quiet, closed meetings

Posted on November 13, 2016 | link

The City’s Development Code provides the basis for the review of all requests to alter or develop property within the City of Sugar Land. Eleven chapters make up the Development Code and include regulations on the control and the use of land and buildings (known as zoning), signs, subdivision of land, building standards and flood damage reduction regulations.

In an effort to make the Code more user-friendly, bring the Code in line with state law and further implement City master plans, updates were approved in July 2015 via Ordinance 2014.

The Development Code update process was completed in-house by staff based on input from the Planning and Zoning Commission, the Development Committee, a consultant and City Council. Public hearings were also held before the Planning and Zoning Commission and City Council.

The City uses a wide variety of communication tools to share information with our residents because we know no one tool reaches everyone.

Public Meetings and Agendas
Public meetings and agendas are always posted online and often with links to more information, related articles or video snippets of the items discussed. City Council and Planning and Zoning Commission meetings are open to the public or may be viewed live on the city's municipal channel or online via the livestream. Snippets of each agenda item and discussion are also archived so residents may view at their convenience.

We also meet with elected representatives of our neighborhood HOAs quarterly to provide important city updates and answer questions on any requested neighborhood topics. Speakers and information are provided for HOA meetings whenever requested .

Communication Tools
Development updates are shared on the City's website, through social media, in every Sugar Land Today newsletter mailed quarterly to every resident and business in the City. Residents may also sign up for a number of notifications that will send monthly eNews email summaries of City activities, events and updates, Land Use Plan updates, all City news releases, construction updates and emergency or urgent city notifications.

All news releases are also shared with all local media (Print, TV and Radio) and the City's Homeowner Associations and neighborhood property management association representatives to share with their neighborhoods and include in neighborhood newsletters.

Summary
Residents choose what information to receive. We really try to provide as much information in as many ways as possible and are always happy to answer any questions in person, by phone, or online through Report a Concern or comments posted on our Online Town Hall topics.

Resident input matters and the entire City staff, volunteer Boards and Commission members and elected representatives are listening. We encourage residents to stay informed, be involved and give us your feedback. We are listening and many of us live in this community, too, so we care very much about all the services and programs we provide.