• October 1, 2014

Council views of homebuilding pace mixed

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Posted: Sunday, June 1, 2014 4:30 am

Killeen’s governing body is at odds over the rate at which homes are being built, but they agree the city’s comprehensive plan is being used adequately to steer the growth in a desirable direction.

Mayor Scott Cosper said when it comes to building homes in the city, the market drives the rate of new construction.

“The market will drive that, and as the (demand) is met, the time that houses are on the market will begin to lag and we will see a natural pullback within the market,” he said. “The entire business community is watching that very closely, but people are still choosing to retire here, people are still moving here from other areas.”

Councilman Juan Rivera said he stands behind the city allowing developers to continue to build new homes.

“I’m not going to stop growth, that’s for sure,” he said. “Growth is something that we need.”

Councilman Steve Harris said he would like to see growth “slow down just a little bit.”

“We should build as necessary or as needed; right now we are building ahead of ourselves and even as we anticipate more people moving to Killeen ... we still have homes available,” he said. “We should build with the growth instead of with the anticipated growth.”

Councilman Wayne Gilmore said he believes if there wasn’t a demand for new housing, the builders and developers would stop construction.

“If they’re building houses and they’re going to be selling them, then it’s up to them,” he said. “They should continue building as long as they feel like that’s what they need to do to provide homes for the area and be successful in their business.”

Councilman Jose Segarra said when looking at the housing market, if builders scaled back, the Killeen market would tighten and lose its affordability.

“If you’re a buyer, it makes homes more affordable and that’s one of the big things that attracts our homebuyers,” said Segarra, who is a real estate broker. “Inventory is down; a lot of people say there’s a lot of vacant homes but that’s common everywhere.”

As the city’s governing body, Segarra said it’s the council’s job to regulate and pass ordinances regarding developments.

“When (developers) are building, if they have a lot of inventory and homes on the ground, then they slow down,” he said.

Councilman Jonathan Okray said he’s not prepared to determine if developers are ahead of the curve or adequately building for growth because the council hasn’t been presented any numbers to make a determination. “It’s hard to say if we should slow down building or continue.”

Okray said the city should keep pace with the demand, and if the demand is there, developers should meet it.

Resident weighs in

Kathy Harkin, a resident in southern Killeen, vocally opposed vacant land in her neighborhood, just west of Rein Drive, being rezoned to suburban single-family residential, saying smaller lot sizes don’t belong in rural areas and citing the lack of a need for new housing developments.

“Everyone is bending over backward for all of our developers,” Harkin said. “(Houses) are empty, they’re for sale and there are true repossessions. ... We don’t have (a housing shortage) in Killeen. We have beautiful homes in beautiful areas (for sale).”

Hilary Shine, city spokeswoman, said assessing whether the city should continue to build at its current rate and whether a more diverse housing market is necessary is a matter of opinion.

“City staff does not offer opinions,” she said. “Staff is tasked to carry out the will of the council.”

Housing diversity

Housing diversity was a hot topic during the recent election campaign, with several candidates saying the city needs more upscale options that will attract local professionals.

Cosper said people often overlook upscale options that currently exist, such as Deerwood Estates, White Rock and Prairie View Estates.

“Over the last 10 to 15 years we have seen very upscale developments begin to come to fruition,” he said. “As we continue to grow and become more diverse and our economy becomes more diverse, I think we are going to see a lot more of those developments.”

Rivera said the city’s market is affordable housing.

“I always say the market will attract itself,” he said. “We have some sections where we will attract lawyers and doctors, but I’m not going to concentrate on that. I’m going to concentrate on what the market is driving ... affordable housing for our military. The market will dictate what we need.”

Gilmore agreed demand will drive what homes are put on the ground. “(With) upscale housing, you have to have a clientele for it, and I think the developer and Realtors would be the ones to notice if there was a demand for them,” he said. “If people were asking for them, then they would be building them.”

Segarra said there are upscale homes in Killeen that do sell, but the market is driven by lower-priced, more affordable homes.

“The demand for those upper-scale homes is not as high as the demand for the homes that are $100,000, $125,000 or $150,000,” he said. “Killeen’s market is the lower-enlisted (military). We would like to attract more upper-scale homebuyers, but the market doesn’t dictate that. Real estate goes by income, and the majority of income is those who can afford $100,000 homes.”

Comprehensive plan

In 2010, the city adopted its comprehensive plan to encourage higher quality development in Killeen. The plan aims to make the city more complete in regard to housing, thoroughfares and recreation.

Cosper said he believes the city is doing “an excellent job” of utilizing the document to guide growth.

“That plan has had citizen buy-in, planning and zoning commission buy-in and numerous council’s buy-in,” he said. “It’s a living document. It will continue to change; it will continue to get better. I think that we will continue to see planned growth that benefits our community.”

Mayor Pro Tem Elizabeth Blackstone said the council is following the comprehensive plan, although complete compliance is difficult.

“We’re trying (to follow the plan), sometimes we can’t follow it to 100 percent,” she said. “I do believe we have to follow a plan and give builders and developers an idea of what to expect as well as homeowners.”

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