Three candidates are vying for Place 1 on the Harker Heights City Council in the May 11 election.
Stuart McLennan, Donald Eric Sandlin and Hal Schiffman answered five questions from the Herald about why they're running for office and what their priorities would be if elected.
1. Why are you running for office and what makes you the best qualified candidate?
MCLENNAN: Experience. I’m motivated to serve and am the only candidate for Place 1 who can leverage 7+ years of experience with city governance.
I served on the Harker Heights Planning & Zoning Commission from 2005 to 2012. I was elected vice chairman in 2007 and chairman four times from 2008 to 2012. I served on the infrastructure committee of Exploring New Heights in 2008.
I participated in joint workshops with the council and staff in 2008 and 2011 that refined the city’s strategic priorities. I’m familiar with the Texas Local Government Code and the Harker Heights Comprehensive Plan and Code of Ordinances.
I’ve prepared to serve on the council by attending 20 meetings and nine workshops since February 2012. I’ve also recently joined Team Killeen as executive director for support services. This affords me a unique opportunity to foster local cooperation and regional synergy. For more, see www.stu4council.org.
SANDLIN: The previous year has shown that our city government has done well, and as we might speculate, with limited resources and ever-increasing costs. It has addressed complex issues and has been guided by rules of law, the desires of individuals and interest groups, and common sense.
I support its vision with this additional thought: Growing the city, that is, increasing its commercial tax base has merit, but it must be second to maintaining and even increasing the quality of life of the city’s inhabitants. The best qualified candidate must augment these efforts with an ear to the ground, exercising wisdom, leadership and equality. I understand that.
SCHIFFMAN: I have lived in Harker Heights almost 20 years, with great appreciation for our community. I have observed quality growth and development during that time. I wish to contribute to that progress with my unique skills. Past community service on the Board of Zoning Adjustments and “Exploring New Heights II” committee persuades me that serving on the city council is how I can best continue to serve my community. Visit halschiffman.com for my 20-year community service history.
I have had a successful 43-year business career that has developed my experience and judgment. For 33 years of my career I have been general manager of various sized enclosed shopping malls, 15 years were at Killeen Mall. A shopping mall is equivalent to a small city, with the same departmental structures: public works, public safety, etc. My experience is directly on point with the issues that will face our city.
2. What is the biggest issue facing Harker Heights?
MCLENNAN: Water. The council and city staff must continue to pursue visionary planning and infrastructure development in coordination with the Central Texas Council of Governments, Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, Brazos River Authority, Water Control and Improvement District No. 1 and Dog Ridge Water Supply Corporation. The city has sufficient raw, treated and sewer rights, access, and contracts from Belton Lake through 2042; however, additional contracts will be needed as we plan for a build-out population of 48,000 in 2040. To that end, the council wisely invested $8 million in a new water treatment plant that WCID No. 1 will construct on Stillhouse Hollow Lake.
SANDLIN: There are many issues facing the city that relate to the delicate balance of growth and restraint. Bordered by Killeen, Nolanville and Belton that are sprawling, our city has the opportunity to continue its development as a quaint community. To maintain this, our growth must be metered with a focus on the needs of the community. Additionally, our neighbor to the west, Fort Hood, may experience dramatic changes in the near future and ripple-downs will affect many of us, including businesses.
The city needs to be sensitive to the pressures facing the soldier, government employees and defense contractors in these tenuous times. We also need to address the “little” issues before they become large and they exist in abundance within our community.
SCHIFFMAN: The major issue facing our city is long-term economic sustainability. The time will come in the not-too-distant future when we will be landlocked and unable to annex additional area. The inability to grow and develop means revenue will plateau.
We must put the critical infrastructure that will establish the long-term economic viability and quality of life of our city in place before that happens. Fire stations, parks, sewer lines, etc. become difficult to fund once the city cannot fund them from increasing revenues.
3. How do you feel the city is doing regarding commercial and residential development?
MCLENNAN: Very well. The council and city staff continue to effectively balance property rights, compatible uses, buffer zones and growth. The city has high standards for commercial construction and should sustain development that is well sited, high quality and visually appealing, like Market Heights.
The council also adjusted frontage and set-back standards in R-1 districts and increased the minimum lot size from 7,200 to 8,400 square feet. Larger lots increase the appeal of residential areas and allow builders to offer a wider variety of floor plans for affordable, high quality housing.
SANDLIN: The charm of a small city is what drew many of us to Harker Heights. Quiet neighborhoods and innovative parks invite new families, visiting service members and retiring oldsters. And near our main highways, we have the “Bright Star of Central Texas” — our grocery and general goods stores, restaurants, hospital, schools and theater. These serve not only us, but those of nearby cities who prefer the clean lines of the quaint “Mayberry-like” community.
There is also a great potential for growth within this paradigm. However, these stores and businesses must remain in commercial groupings and not be allowed to invade our residential areas. We must not detract from the uniqueness that sets us apart.
SCHIFFMAN: Present city government is doing a very commendable job managing the growth in our community. The presence of Market Heights, Seton Hospital and soon to be Sam’s Club speaks to the “positive growth” commitment of city management and leadership.
The city must be committed to balanced commercial and residential development and insure that both residents’ and business’ interests will be complementary.
4. How would you change the city’s current growth pattern?
MCLENNAN: The city will continue to expand to the east and south and the construction and sustainment of supporting infrastructure is key to set conditions for residential and commercial development. The council and city staff must share a vision on maturing Knights Way (Farm-to-Market 2410) east to Dog Ridge. I support use of planned developments and siting of commercial hubs at key intersections instead of strips along both sides of the road. Development along Stillhouse Hollow Lake Road (Farm-to-Market 3481) to the south requires additional coordination with the Texas Department of Transportation to construct a new intersection with Cedar Knob Road via Tuscan Meadows and adjust speed limits, as well as with developers to construct sidewalks, especially from Tuscan Meadows to the high school. The city also needs to coordinate with Nolanville and TxDOT to connect Warriors Path and Levy Crossing from FM 2410 to U.S. 190 to facilitate greater north-south traffic flow.
SANDLIN: Given that the city competes with those surrounding for growth, I support the development of new residential areas within the city that are designed to enhance the quality of life. Commercial considerations must meet the needs of the populace and add to the attractiveness of the city.
SCHIFFMAN: A single city councilman will not change the city’s growth pattern. That having been said, I would work with fellow city councilmen to continue to implement existing master plans, such as East Farm-to-Market 2410, because it is a well formulated plan. I would also work diligently with city management to identify opportunities to maximize development value in the outstanding potential along Stillhouse Lake Road.
5. What does the city need to do to revitalize the older part of Harker Heights?
MCLENNAN: The council and city staff are already pursuing several initiatives to reach this goal. First, achieving a shared vision with property owners for the area north of U.S. 190. The Global Information System capability resident in the city’s planning department is a superb tool to help shape this vision. Second, continuing to invest in supporting infrastructure and recreational facilities and to encourage attractive commercial enterprise. Third, managing the siting, use and renewal of tavern overlays. And fourth, encouraging property owners to pro-actively make the changes required to improve the compatible siting, variety, and visual appeal of both residential and commercial construction.
SANDLIN: I do not have an easy, encompassing answer. Revitalization is a multipart issue that is best tackled in pieces and with the collective wisdom of the city’s government. Historically, we have witnessed success in the older parts of Harker Heights, and with patience, we will see more. Frankly, growing a city is hard work, fixing the broken pieces and implementing new strategies. The mark of a successful government is the ability to pool aggregate thoughts into a reasonable proposal, resource the proposal into a plan, and implement the plan as a project. Suggestions from citizens are invaluable and stimulate the process, and corporately and over time, I believe that we can come up with successful projects that will invigorate the older section of Harker Heights.
SHIFFMAN: The city has identified a concept master plan for revitalization and beautification of older parts of the city, starting with Veterans Memorial Parkway. This roadway has excellent width that would lend itself to landscaped medians and borders. This is a state road so Texas Department of Transportation will have to be a participant. State grants are also a potential funding source. Next, acquire vacant property at commercially-favorable rates and put them into a private revenue producing commercial application. Also, incentivize existing landowners to upgrade their properties. We can wind up with a dynamic area of commercial clusters and refurbished storefronts. It will take time and it will take money.