Texas Town Weighs Plan for Imperial Sugar Site That Adds Housing While Sidestepping Tainted History


February 14, 2023




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(SUGAR LAND, Texas)—The City of Sugar Land is considering significant revisions to the current General Development Plan for the Imperial Historic District. PUMA, a Houston-based development firm, outlined an updated vision for the land use at the Jan. 24 city council meeting.

The updated scope doubles the number of residential units originally allocated for the site and does so in broad-strokes language that does not address how the city’s namesake property will reflect the history of Sugar Land.

The current General Development Plan caps multifamily units at 660 and states that the project will adhere to the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for the Treatment of Historic Properties stating, “Changes that create a false sense of historical development…will not be undertaken.”

PUMA’s new plan reflects a more generalized vision for the area, calling for 1200 multifamily residential units and a regional activity center. The revision does not address the previously agreed-upon historical preservation standards including how to address Sugar Land’s past. 

Sugar Land was developed around cotton, corn, and sugar crops that relied on slave labor. Early plantations were replaced by industrialized ventures like the Imperial Sugar Company that, while modern by comparison, continued to rely on decades-old, egregious labor practices. According to the City of Sugar Land, post-Civil War labor policies were imposed by Confederate landowner Littleberry Ambrose Ellis and Col. Edward H. Cunningham when Cunningham took over the management of Texas’ penal system and created a convict-leasing program to provide free labor to area landowners.

Sugar Land residents voiced concerns at the Jan. 24 meeting inquiring about the increased number of residents and an influx of transient laborers. It is yet to be seen how these will be compounded by the complex issue of representation and Sugar Land’s origin story within its own “historic district.”

Details regarding the project updates are located on the city’s website, and residents of Sugar Land can learn more about the proposed land use changes at the city’s next planning and zoning meeting on Feb. 14 and the subsequent public reading of the proposition on March 7.


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