HARKER HEIGHTS — Given the green light from the City Council, the highly debated Heights Overlay District No. 1 along Farm-to-Market 2410 was approved Tuesday.
Council members and concerned residents discussed the issue at great length following a presentation from Fred Morris, Planning and Development director.
The overlay will 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.
“Going forward, this is a huge step for the community,” Morris said.
Morris and his staff worked on fine-tuning the overlay for the past two years, and although it was approved by the council, Morris said nothing is set in stone and aspects of the plan will be revisited and revised as needed.
“You can read all the specs of a brand-new car, but until you sit in it and go for a ride, you don’t know if it’s the right fit for you,” he said. “We can visualize what we want things to look like but until we get something on the ground, we won’t know how the overlay standards will impact the quality and character of future developments.”
Unlike flipping a light switch, the changes won’t be instantaneous. “It will take about 18 to 24 months before we will see a noticeable impact,” he said.
For residential developer Chris Doose of Austin, who built the Verna Lee townhouses and is behind the up-and-coming master-planned community the “Enclave at Heights,” the overlay is a huge draw for developers like him.
“We needed an overlay in place so we can continue to attract the type of businesses we want in our community,” he said. “If we don’t act now, we will have another Rancier Avenue on our hands in the next 20 years,” he said, referencing the cluttered part of Killeen’s northernmost thoroughfare.
Business owners, both for and against the overlay, filled the council chambers Tuesday night to share their position on the issue.
A majority of the individuals who spoke out at the forum were not 100 percent against implementing the zoning tool; rather, they just wanted the council to re-examine the signage and screening portion of the overlay before coming to a vote.
“We knew sooner or later they were going to approve it, but I just feel the council could have given it more thought and more time and really listened to what the business owner’s concerns are,” said Kwik Kar Lube & Tune co-owner Robert Kitchenmaster.
‘Right thing to do’
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, City Manager Steve Carpenter said.
Jean Shine, owner of Shine Team Realtors, said passing the overlay was the right direction for the city to go in.
“I’m glad they passed it because it was the right thing to do. This was much needed because we don’t have a traditional Main Street; 2410 is our Main Street,” Shine said. “This 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 more businesses and families and keep the family feel going in Heights.”
Larry Robison, a 48-year Heights resident and Planning and Zoning chairman, is in favor of the overlay and clapped after the council approved it.
“As we continue to grow our population, the city needs something to help it go further,” Robison said. “This will help guide us in the right direction moving forward. If we didn’t do it right or right now, it would have been a huge mistake.”