By Rebecca Rose
Killeen Daily Herald
HARKER HEIGHTS - While residents were out enjoying parks, pools, picnics and more, city staff and council members spent Saturday scrutinizing maps and discussing long-term goals.
A retreat was held at the Activities Center on Indian Trail, with staff and council present to discuss issues from the January 2012 Harker Heights survey, including land use, beautification and public works issues.
Mayor Mike Aycock said the day functioned as a longer, more in-depth workshop, with staff and council given the opportunity to present issues, ask questions and share suggestions about possible projects.
"We're thinking about our future growth," said Aycock.
Aycock said the best thing about the retreat was having the opportunity to engage and interact with staff.
"This really helps us narrow things down," he said. Aycock said the information gathered at the retreat would help set priorities for the council down the road.
City manager Steve Carpenter said the retreat offered a chance to look at where the city was at and identify opportunities and challenges for future growth.
"We're throwing out ideas to get a general feel of things we can bring back in the future," he said.
At the retreat, attendees examined a large map of the city, generated by staff in the planning and zoning department. Joe Molis, geographical information systems coordinator for Harker Heights, said staff worked to divide the city into 10 districts and three corridors, including the city's busiest thoroughfares - Veterans Memorial Boulevard, U.S. Highway 190 and Farm-to-Market 2410.
In a city as diverse as Harker Heights, different areas have different priorities, said Molis.
"One solution does not fit all," he said. "It would be short-sighted to treat it as one entity."
Molis said one objective for the retreat was to help identify different priorities in each region.
"The goal is get feedback (from the council)," he explained.
Staff and council used the map to discuss topics in various districts across the city. Issues discussed included revitalization along Veterans Memorial Boulevard, as well as parking for the stretch of nightclubs along the heavily traveled route.
Harker Heights Police Chief Mike Gentry said parking in the area was a "fairly complex issue," with some businesses not having enough space to facilitate patronage at certain times. People wind up parking in lots for other establishments. Gentry said some venue owners will have cars towed, a situation creating confusion and frustration for patrons.
"When that's only practiced by some (venues), some people get treated unfairly," said Gentry.
Council members discussed the possibility of building public parking on open land in the area, addressing pedestrian safety concerns as well.
Carpenter said other cities with major entertainment districts also have common public parking areas to accommodate patrons, but Harker Heights doesn't.
Carpenter and council members discussed growth in the area surrounding Market Heights, an increasingly popular regional shopping center. Ideas included creating a new, more attractive entrance for Market Heights from the northern part of the city.
Council members and staff also discussed a parcel of land next to Market Heights, currently home to a mobile home park.
"That's not the best location for retail," said Carpenter, who noted the area might be better suited for an apartment complex.
Carpenter said any discussion of growth in the area surrounding Market Heights would have to involve public works planning.
"Drainage is going to be an issue for redevelopment in that district," he said.
Carpenter said the area had a need for lower and moderate income housing, but the city should look for developers with a history of managing property, not just building and selling.
"Developments get bad reputations if the management is not good," he said.
Another idea brought up was the reconvening of the city's economic development corporation.
Aycock said every region surrounding the city had an active EDC except Harker Heights.
"It's harder for a city to do things than it is for an EDC," said Carpenter, who suggested reconstituting the group.
Contact Rebecca Rose at firstname.lastname@example.org or (254) 501-7548. Follow her on Twitter at KDHBusinessNews.