By Sarah Chacko
Killeen Daily Herald
When early American pioneers set their sights on the wild west, there were lessons to be learned.
They tried to survive amid hardships and loss, hoping for economic gain.
The trials have paid off for the nation in general, but Killeen's land rush could be as much of an opportunity for success as it is for failure.
Surrounded to the east, west and north, south is the only territory left for the city to conquer.
Having already made large investments in that area an $83 million regional airport, a state veteran's cemetery, and hopefully, a four-year university city officials and residents know the south will allow for growth beyond what has been seen thus far.
"There's going to be development, but it needs to be good development," said resident Jason Mitcham. "So much more can be done (in the south) either in a really good or really bad way. It's just too early to tell."
Which is why officials are busy creating land use plans and zoning studies to ensure that the development boom won't backfire.
"We want to make sure we plan the development out there and not just let it happen," said Ward 4 Councilman Ernest Wilkerson, who represents the southwestern part of Killeen.
"Do we really want houses so close they're touching each other? Do we want dollar stores popping up? I think we're better than that," he said.
So do many residents, most of whom live in the future extension of Killeen and don't want to see rows of tin-roofed businesses where their open pastures used to be.
"I don't think you need to cover the world with duplexes and dollar stores," resident Wayne Duncan told the council Tuesday. "Take your time, think about it."
At a stakeholder meeting regarding the land-use plan for state highways 195 and 201 last April, Duncan said he appreciates that the city sought resident input, but whether it will respond to it remains to be seen.
"It's good the city sees a need for planning," said Duncan, who owns about 100 acres with written records back to the 1850s. "But what scares most people in here is which way you're going to plan it."
The majority of the development under way is in housing.
Mitcham raised concerns at the level of multifamily housing that the city is allowing, which is expected to be a topic of discussion for the council and the Planning and Zoning Commission.
Wilkerson also is pushing for changes in the subdivision ordinance, which was created when Killeen was a smaller community.
"It's no longer adequate," he said.
Wilkerson estimates that by the middle of next year, the city will be hitting a critical mass of developed land.
"I don't have an issue with fourplexes replacing dilapidated homes," he said. "But when you have a whole 83 acres of fourplexes, that's a problem."
Dick Young, chairman of the land-use committee, said city officials have a pretty good idea where certain things are going to locate.
"That's something the council needs to decide on, so that when they begin to develop it, we have a plan ... and it's not just a jungle of neon signs and junk metal," he said.
City Manager Connie Green said the city is doing a location study for the new police headquarters and next fire station.
While recommendations are yet to be made to the council, Green said they will be servicing the southern part of Killeen.
The water and sewer master plan is in the process of being updated to include more area to the south, he said.
Even the Killeen Independent School Districtis in on the action.
Kirk Thomas, special assistant to business services at KISD, said the district picks sites where it knows or feels development is anticipated, based on conversations with the city and developers.
"Indicators are that the city has nowhere to go but south," Thomas said. "Trustees wanted to try and get there ... ahead of the frenzy."
Thomas said the district has plans to meet with developers in the Goodnight Ranch area east of the airport.
"Obviously, if they develop all of that, we're going to need some school sites there," he said.
Placing schools within large developments is part of the district's neighborhood site philosophy.
Home buyers like to have a school nearby, especially one their kids can walk to.
Within the last five years, school sites have followed the neighborhood trend Iduma and Timber Ridge elementaries, Live Oak Middle, and by this fall Saegert Ranch and Skipcha Mountain elementaries.
City Planner Tom Dann said the intersection of state highways 195 and 201 is ideal for commercial development, while more secluded land could be left completely alone, Dann said.
"Individuals have the opportunity to come and tell the (planning and zoning) commission what they want to do with their land," Dann said. "And the commission generally listens."
While some of SH 195 heading south is already assigned the least restrictive business zoning, Young said they are hoping to add overlays to that area and further on, where it is still mainly zoned for agriculture, to better delineate what businesses will be allowed there and how they can be built.
Billy Dunivan, who owns more than 20 acres at the corner of SH 195 and 201, said that when he bought the first piece of land there about 20 years ago, he expected that at one time or another it would become commercial.
"I wish it had been quicker," he said.
Still waiting to be hooked onto the city's sewer system, which he was told would be added when the intersection is reconstructed, and water lines, Dunivan said those amenities will ensure quick development.
Dunivan said he sees more subdivisions sprouting up than strip malls, bringing in the traffic that will hopefully incite commercial development.
While some residents to the south are worried about an increase in traffic and crime, Dunivan said there's always a negative that comes with a positive.
But growth is positive.
"I think it will be great," Dunivan said. "The more, the better for me."
While some residents are still coming to terms with the nature of growth, it is inevitable.
"Whether people want to face it or not, in 10 to 20 years, Copperas Cove and Killeen will be connected," Mitcham said.
With the majority of the council on the way out within the next two years, he said this is a delicate time for the city in securing the direction of future development.
"We all would like our small little towns to stay the way they are," Mitcham said. "But it can be painless. It doesn't have to hurt to grow."
Contact Sarah Chacko at firstname.lastname@example.org