HARKER HEIGHTS — Driving through the city on U.S. Highway 190, a green-and-white Starbucks sign beckons to weary travelers and caffeine addicts. From the highway, it looks to be a quick side trip for coffee and pastries.
But there’s nothing easy about getting in and out of this location.
Cars can only access Starbucks by driving through Taco Bueno’s parking lot, and there is no entrance or exit to either business from the access road. Drivers who think they can get there from the highway by driving south on Farm-to-Market 2410 — a logical assumption — are sadly mistaken.
The city of Harker Heights wants to keep this kind of development nightmare 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.
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 those plans.
City Manager Steve Carpenter asked the council Tuesday to approve amendments to the city’s ordinance code for subdivision regulations that simplify and better define current concept plan requirements.
“We have two definitions of what a concept plan is in our current subdivision regulation,” Director of Building and Design Fred Morris said. “In our change that we’re proposing, we’ve defined it a little bit differently, a little more clearly.”
If property owners had presented a detailed concept plan to the city as the ordinance change would require, officials said the Starbucks/Taco Bueno problem could have been avoided. Morris said the original property owners might have benefited from knowing what types of uses were likely to occur on their land, and in the long run, the residents of Harker Heights would have benefited from a better development plan.
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.
“I think everyone agrees that we need this, it just needs to be developed a little more,” Mayor Mike Aycock said. “How rigorous are we going to be on phase development? I can understand large developments, but for me to be comfortable with this, we need to have more language in this.”
The council will discuss the proposed ordinance changes in a workshop at 3 p.m. Tuesday at City Hall. Carpenter plans to simplify the changes for the council in hopes that they will be approved at an October council meeting.