By Kevin M. Smith

Killeen Daily Herald

Killeen officials said Tuesday that property owners near the State Highway 201/195 intersection will be contacted soon with a price for their land.

The City Council met behind closed doors for a half-hour Tuesday to discuss right-of-way acquisition at the intersection on the south side of town.

The plan is for a grade separation project that will lift State Highway 201 over State Highway 195 where the two meet, Public Works Director James Butler said.

"It clears up that really bad intersection," Butler said in an interview after the council's workshop Tuesday.

Butler likened the project to the State Highway 195 (also known as Fort Hood Street) grade separation that takes it over Stan Schlueter Loop.

"That will be a smooth transition for traffic," said Butler, referring to the 201/195 project.

While he could not discuss what was talked about during the closed session at the end of the council workshop, Butler did say the Texas Department of Transportation will handle the right-of-way acquisition.

"They (land owners) are going to receive an offer," Butler said. "It's all going to be done in accordance with TxDOT rules."

He said TxDOT has a set of very specific laws and guidelines it must follow for buying land along the road for a project. Butler said it's not like 50 years ago, when land owners had to take what the government offered. Rather, they can ask for a different amount if the state's compensation for the land is not suitable.

"They will be treated very fairly," Butler said.

He also said there will be an opportunity for property owners to ask questions about the acquisition and project before the deal is done.

About a half-dozen property owners from the area attended the workshop, but they left before it started after they were told the agenda item they wanted to hear about would be discussed in a closed session.

D.R. Levy was among them. He went to "find out what they're going to take and what they're going to do."

Levy owns land at the intersection of Stagecoach Road and State Highway 195.

Gary Purser, a local developer, was also at the workshop because he was interested in the city's plan.

"Most of us ... we have no idea what they're doing," Purser said. "Nobody has made any attempt to offer us fair value for their property or what they're going to do."

He said the city needs to talk to property owners about the project before it has items like that on the agenda.

"We don't know what they're trying to do," Purser said.

In other business – open to the public – at the workshop, the council discussed functions of future groups.

The council discussed the military advisory group – an organization proposed by Mayor Timothy Hancock. He asked for the council's feedback on that group's role and responsibilities.

The council agreed that it should not act as a liaison with Fort Hood. The intent, Hancock said, is to ensure condolences are sent to the families of fallen soldiers.

The council agreed the city should send condolences to both area natives stationed elsewhere, as well as soldiers from across the country who are stationed at Fort Hood.

They also talked about the military advisory group having a working relationship with local veterans organizations and determining the city's role in ceremonial events for veterans like Memorial Day and Veterans Day.

"I think you're on the right track," Mayor Pro Tem Fred Latham told Hancock during the workshop.

The council also discussed the Diversity Coalition, part of a program to receive a Community of Respect designation – also Hancock's idea.

"This is not about somebody sitting here taking complaints because somebody's neighbor called him something," Hancock said.

He said he wants to include representatives from local cultural groups like the League of United Latin American Citizens and Multicultural Education and Counseling through the Arts.

Hancock said the purpose of the program is to create an atmosphere of respect and understanding of other cultures in the community. The council supported that idea.

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