HARKER HEIGHTS — After more than 10 years of focus groups and forums, the proposed Heights Overlay District No. 1 along Farm-to-Market 2410 is still a hot-button topic in Heights.
Discussed at great lengths by council members following a presentation Tuesday, the overlay would follow a zoning ordinance amendment and set standards for current and future buildings, parking, signage, landscaping, screening, buffering and street appearance over the next 20 years.
City Manager Steve Carpenter and Planning and Development Director Fred Morris said the overlay should promote a low-speed boulevard, or “Main Street,” feel.
The purpose of all this, Morris said, is to add character to the area, giving it the appearance of a city hub, rather than just a thoroughfare and to have a system in place as the city continues to grow.
“We are doing an awful lot of speculating on what we think people want. What we need to do is send out a survey and find out exactly what people think,” said Councilman Sam Murphey.
Mayor Mike Aycock, as a business owner along the strip himself, also addressed concerns about existing property owners having access to their respective businesses. He proposed creating more detailed renditions of how the overlay will affect their livelihoods by giving residents a more concrete visual on what’s to come.
Before several public hearings, Morris said his staff sent out more than 1,400 notices about the overlay to businesses along the 2.4-square-mile Knight’s Way corridor extending southeast from U.S. Highway 190.
Business owners’ concerns
Despite the opportunities for residents to speak in favor or against the development tool, Kwik Kar Lube & Tune owner Robert Kitchenmaster said the city’s development standards are already strict.
Although he sees some positive outcomes from the overlay, he feels business owners’ voices and concerns are falling on “deaf ears.”
“To the city’s credit, to one degree or another, this is probably a good thing because who doesn’t want nice streets, sidewalks and trees,” he said. “I’m concerned about the unintended consequences this could stir up.”
City officials said existing businesses will be “grandfathered in,” which is exactly what Kitchenmaster is concerned about.
“Grandfathering has rules and they have not set them yet,” he said. “This city is more concerned on what it wants for itself instead of working with business owners. We are a part of this city whether they like it or not.
“It’s going to be a give-and-take process, but if we can have a better dialogue, we can meet somewhere in the middle where everyone will win. I want to work with the city and see what we can do. ... We can make it look nice and be business-friendly at the same time.”
Specific development standards could foster residential and business compatibility, draw national investors, and raise land values, which is a key for sustainability in a land-locked city like Harker Heights, Carpenter said.
“This is a wonderful idea and is much needed because 2410 is our Main Street,” said Jean Shine, owner of Shine Team Realtors.
She added that as long as the overlay doesn’t overprice the land to the point it can’t be sold, she is on board. “This is area is our future and it needs to be presented as the warm and welcoming town that it is so we can continue to attract families and keep the family feel going in Heights.”