A Killeen City Council vote Tuesday allowing for a residential development in the university and cemetery districts is stirring debate over whether the body is following the city’s comprehensive plan.
The nearly 180-page plan, which cost $250,000 to develop, is the “most important policy document a municipal government prepares and maintains.” It lays out a vision and goals for development of the city, considers the entire geographic area of the community and assesses short- and long-term needs.
City planner Tony McIlwain said the comprehensive plan hasn’t been revised or restructured since its adoption in November 2010.
In the plan, guidelines are established to guide the growth of the city, particularly the portion south of Stan Schlueter Loop. The overlay district, which includes the cemetery and university districts, has more stringent rules for development.
According to the city’s zoning ordinance, the districts are zoned for commercial use, including financial institutions, hospitals, bakeries, floral shops, offices, restaurants, hotels, gas stations, theaters, art galleries and bookstores. The ordinance allows the council to grant conditional-use permits for any residential or business land use for specific pieces of property.
“The council may impose appropriate conditions and safeguards to assure that these land uses are compatible with and appropriate for adjacent properties,” McIlwain said. “Conditional-use permits granted in the university district and cemetery district shall be considered permanent, provided the property owner remains in continuous compliance with any conditions or safeguards imposed. Otherwise, the council may impose time limitations as they see fit.”
Councilman Steve Harris, who voted against developer Bruce Whitis’ request to build single-family homes on a 35-acre piece of property in the university and cemetery district, said he thinks the city is “wasting money” by hiring firms to conduct studies when the council makes decisions before the results are returned. He specifically mentioned a thoroughfare study and an impact fee study the city is awaiting results from.
“This is about the business of the city of Killeen and making sure that Killeen grows in the right way and is responsible,” Harris said. “It’s responsible to me to go ahead and wait and not jump the gun.”
Killeen Public Works Director Scott Osburn said the city expects to receive the impact fee study in the fall and the thoroughfare plan in spring 2015.
Some municipalities use impact fees to shift a portion of the cost from developing capital improvement projects onto a new development.
According to city documents, the complete plan will include a water impact fee study, a wastewater impact fee study, a roadway impact fee study and transportation utility feasibility. The study cost $233,571.
The thoroughfare plan, which costs $165,562, will allow the city to implement street development standards in undeveloped areas.
The city also is waiting on the results of a solid waste master plan, which cost $140,000. It’s expected to be complete this fall.
Councilman Terry Clark, who also voted in opposition, said he couldn’t support a project because of the council’s lack of participation in the development.
“The council itself has not been involved in any of the detailed discussion,” he said. “We’re planning a city, not just making a decision so we can get some more lots on the land.”
Don Clay, a longtime Killeen resident, sent several letters to the council regarding the rezoning request and expressing his opposition for allowing the development in the overlay district.
Clay said he received short responses from Councilmen Jose Segarra and Juan Rivera thanking him for his email, and phone calls and “lengthy” text from Clark and Councilman Jonathan Okray.
“I’m very familiar with (the comprehensive plan). I’ve pushed for the plan. ... I helped (the council) work on it with many other citizens; we sat down with crayons and went over the whole thing,” Clay said. “The problem is they’re letting the developers change that plan so easily. Why even spend money and do it if you aren’t going to make the developers follow it?”
Although three councilmen and some residents opposed the development, Whitis had the majority of the council in his corner and some residents backing his plan.
Nearby residents Payton and Wayne Duncan gave their full support for the project, stating they both thought it was the best use for the land.
Mayor Pro Tem Elizabeth Blackstone said the comprehensive plan is just like any other plan; alterations have to be made to accommodate changes.
“I think we can always go back and look at the plan, but a plan is just that; it’s not meant to be a hard and fast document,” she said. “It’s good to follow to some extent, but there are always exceptions because things change. I think any plan is open to some interpretation and some changes. The city is not the same city it was when the plan was first formulated.”
Blackstone said she voted for the development because she felt it was most suitable for the property.
“The development is coming in with better standards than normal,” she said. “We want that area to look nice and this particular development offers a lot more than any other development around here with its standards.”