Disparate opinions on the Killeen City Council have made it difficult to negotiate a major land deal that has been in the works for more than two months.
Local real estate mogul Bruce Whitis has asked the council to endorse his 1,400-acre residential development south of the city limits for the creation of Bell County Municipal Utility District No. 2. Bell County MUD No. 1 exists near Belton.
The city’s endorsement will be necessary for Whitis to pass his MUD-2 bill during the 83rd Legislature.
With state approval, the MUD — independent of the city — will establish a new taxing entity in Bell County, governed by a board elected by voters who live in the district.
MUD taxes pay for utilities, including water, wastewater, electricity and waste collection.
“The most planned community in Bell County,” as Whitis calls it, also may be the largest development in the county, expected to bring more than 4,500 new homes to a four-mile-long track abutting the Killeen city limits at Chaparral and Trimmer roads.
“It is a rare opportunity to have a project of this size and to do a true master plan community,” Whitis said in an interview earlier this month.
If the project is approved by the Legislature, Whitis said he would plan to break ground in two years.
Waiting for the council’s endorsement, the developer has delayed a deal to close on the land, which it does not currently own.
Killeen plans to annex the area in the next 15 to 20 years — MUD or no MUD — and the council wants to ensure what is built on the site is appropriate for the city, although it is currently in the county’s jurisdiction.
At a workshop this Tuesday, the council is scheduled discuss the consent agreement to the MUD, which contains legal stipulations including building standards and financial obligations that the developer must follow until the land is annexed.
The council plans to vote on the consent agreement at its Feb. 26 meeting.
The challenge of the negotiations has been crafting the regulatory language to enable the council’s vision of a “walkable” community without making it impossible for the developer to sell the homes, said Sean Compton, land planner for TBJG Partners in Austin.
Compton said the development will include pocket parks, neighborhood pools, shared-use paths and a landscaped median parkway — the extension of East Trimmer Road.
“What we are trying to do is create a neighborhood, not a subdivision,” Compton said.
The agreement will dictate how the developer can build a product 15 or 20 years from now, in a market that is difficult to predict, Compton said.
“You need to build flexibility into the plan,” he said. “Look at cars and how much they have changed in 20 years.”
During the more than two months of debate — most in closed-door sessions — several members of the council expressed the fear that low standards will result in another Killeen subdivision of densely packed low-cost homes.
At last week’s council workshop, Councilman Jared Foster said the minimum standards in the current plan were “antithetical” to the city’s comprehensive plan, a document that is supposed to guide the city to smart growth.
“I don’t want there to be one more monolithic, somewhat run-amuck housing development in the city of Killeen,” Foster said.
According to the draft agreement, the maximum density of the development is three residential dwellings per acre — a ratio that at least four council members thought was too dense.
City Planner Tony McIlwain said the average density in the city is slightly more than three dwellings per acre.
Others members said that placing too many restrictions will not give the developer the flexibility he needs to make the development profitable.
“If it doesn’t work for them financially, then they can’t do it,” Mayor Pro Tem Michael Lower said. “It’s not that they won’t do it; they can’t do it.”
The biggest boon for the developer — and potentially the city — would be the $17 million in roads, parks and water and sewer infrastructure that residents of the MUD will pay for through taxes.
The plan is to set property taxes in MUD-2 higher than the city’s taxes, which at 74.28 cents per $100 valuation are currently the highest in Bell County.
If the city annexes the MUD after the debts are paid, it will get the infrastructure for free.
If the city annexes the land before the bonds are paid, residents of Killeen would assume the MUD’s bond debt.
Out of bounds
Some aspects of the city’s plans to impose regulations on an area outside of the city limits remain legally questionable.
The city does have the right to practice eminent domain outside the city limits if it is in the interests of the city, Mayor Dan Corbin said during Tuesday’s meeting.
However, overseeing the right-of-way on county roads could be an overstep.
As part of the agreement, the developer agreed to spend $4.1 million rebuilding Chaparral Road, a county-owned road, because of the expected increase in traffic. If the Chaparral Road project costs more than $4.1 million, Killeen would pay the remaining cost, according to the current draft agreement.
The council also requested that the buildings constructed in the MUD meet basic city building codes. However, the city has not found a method for enforcing the codes without sending inspectors, who are paid through city salaries, into the county properties.
County buildings are not required to meet building codes.
The city of Killeen plans to sell water and sewer services to the development, which will generate revenue for the city without the regular up-front cost of building infrastructure.
The Whitis group has asked that the city pay the $17,000 certificates of convenience and necessity for the potential homes, in exchange for in-kind services. CCNs are required in order for a public entity to provide water to residents and must be obtained through the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.
The city also stands to gain from sales tax, since most of the residents would shop in Killeen.
Over the next two weeks, the council and the developer will look for compromises on the land deal that, if done right, both agree will ultimately benefit the city.
Compton said the agreement has to have flexibility but also accommodate certain values that are important to the community.
“There’s only so much you can put into design standards,” Compton said. “At some point you just say this is a partnership and we have to trust each other.”