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Heights aims to avert road confusion

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Posted: Friday, September 21, 2012 4:30 am | Updated: 10:04 am, Fri Sep 21, 2012.

A drive-thru Starbucks standing at the corner of U.S. Highway 190 and Farm-to-Market 2410 in Harker Heights is a caffeine-lovers dream. From the highway, it looks to be a quick side trip for coffee rejuvenation.

But in reality, accessing this business is a nightmare.

Cars can only get to Starbucks by driving through the parking lots of two adjacent businesses, and there is no entrance or exit from the access road. Drivers who think they can get there from the highway by driving south on FM 2410 — a logical assumption — are sadly mistaken.

The city of Harker Heights is working to keep this kind of development snafu from happening again by requiring future land developers to submit detailed concept plans to illustrate the impacts their proposed projects will have on the city.

If property owners had presented a detailed concept plan to the city as the ordinance change would require, officials believe the Starbucks problem could have been avoided. Fred Morris, director of building and design, said the original property owners might also have benefited financially from knowing what types of uses were likely to occur on their land, and in the long run, the citizens of Harker Heights would have benefited from a better development plan.

City Manager Steve Carpenter asked the council Sept. 11 to approve amendments to the city’s ordinance code for subdivision regulations that simplify and better define current concept plan requirements. The council chose not to vote on the changes and discussed them again in a workshop Tuesday at city hall.

Flood plain management, commercial-residential compatibility, street arrangement, parking and access proposals, landscape and buffer areas and surrounding land uses would all be addressed in concept plans if the amendments are approved.

“We have two definitions of what a concept plan is in our current subdivision regulation,” Morris said. “In our change that we’re proposing, we’ve defined it a little bit differently, a little more clearly.”

Morris cited the Market Heights shopping center as an example of how an effective concept plan can lead to success.

“Before (Market Heights) began to develop, they laid out a concept plan for how their shopping center would lay out, where their buildings would go, how their parking and circulation would function,” Morris said. “If you look at an aerial photograph, they developed that thing as they had designed.”

In August, the planning and zoning commission reviewed the proposed ordinance changes and “strongly supported” them, according to the city.

Stu McLennan, who has served as chairman of the commission for five years, is excited about the changes. “This is an outstanding thing,” he told the council. “Give the P&Z that opportunity to take a birds-eye view of (a proposed development) and look at the synergy with those areas around it. This will be awesome, and it can be user friendly. I don’t think anybody would be threatened by having to plot the concept of how their plan fits in to the surrounding area.”

Council members also are in favor of the changes but worry about developers balking at potentially costly and time-consuming requirements. They want to make sure the wording in the ordinance is clear and doesn’t keep development out of the city.

“People are going to be really leery about coming in on a piece of property that’s worth a lot of money and putting a concept plan together that may change,” Mayor Mike Aycock said. “I think everyone agrees that we need this, it just needs to be developed a little more.”

Carpenter said some developers will probably not be happy about the ordinance changes but assured the council that the concept plans would be open to change.

“We’ll probably get a lot of complaints,” he said. “It will cost a little more, they’ll have to do a lot of the work upfront. Having a concept plan doesn’t mean you can’t change it ... it’s just a guideline we can follow.”

The ordinance changes will be brought before the city council again sometime in October, according to Carpenter.

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