By Kevin M. Smith
Killeen Daily Herald
A presentation on conservation subdivision development drew mixed reactions from developers and community members Thursday.
Kelly Bender, an urban biologist with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, talked to about 30 people at the Killeen Civic and Conference Center about building subdivisions while leaving green space for natural wildlife. She said the same number of houses are built per 100 acres, for example, but are packed in tighter.
In Killeen, up to 50 homes can be built on 100 acres. But rather than one-half acre per lot, houses would be built on a quarter acre. That would leave 50 acres of untouched land.
"You have the ability to have cluster developments, but you don't feel squashed in," Bender said, noting the residents have access to the 50 acres of nature.
She also said it is designed for developers to sell the lots for the same amount. But not everyone saw the benefits she described to fit in Killeen.
"I think it is completely unfeasible in our area," said Gary Purser Sr., a local developer.
He said it's more likely to work in larger cities where urban sprawl is a problem.
"That (urban sprawl) is not what is occurring here," said Scott Cosper, another local builder.
Purser also said he has tried to give the city land for parks in some subdivisions he has built, but was turned down.
"You try to give the city of Killeen some green space and they won't take it," Purser said.
Others said it seems feasible for the future. Steve Shepherd, developer, said it's a good idea and could work farther south.
"It's not going to work on the edge where it is already developed," Shepherd said.
Shepherd said he doesn't want to see a conservation development drive up home prices.
"We've still got to provide for the soldiers to make it affordable," Shepherd said. "I think there's a place for it."
Wayne Duncan, local resident, said he is in support of it.
"This is an excellent idea in concept, but it is kind of a shotgun approach," Duncan remarked during the presentation.
He said the community needs to develop a master plan because it won't do any good to build a conservation subdivision only to have it surrounded by the traditional subdivisions.
"Then you end up with an island with a few little trees," Duncan said.
Duncan, who has worked on a variety of natural resource-related jobs including the design of hiking and bicycle trails, said the conservation development will help with flood control.
Bender said there are many benefits to conservation development. She said it costs less for local government to maintain. Bender cited studies which state for every dollar agricultural and open land generates, it requires only 33 cents back. In contrast, Bender said, residential land requires $1.26 for every $1 it generates.
Bender also said grass land absorbs carbon dioxide, reduces flooding and recharges ground water. Woodlands, she said, also absorb carbon dioxide, reduces urban heat thus reducing energy consumption. She said one, 32-foot tall tree can absorb 327 gallons of water therefore reducing flooding.
"These are some of the ecological considerations that should be taken when we develop land," Bender said.
Bender also said traditional development increases water runoff and non-native animals that are a nuisance like rats and mice. She said leaving natural green space preserves natural animals like the green tree frog and Texas horned lizard.
Bender said the land left untouched is usually turned over to a local land trust nonprofit organization for upkeep.
She would not talk about the disadvantages of conservation development, but provided a report by the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center which states there are potential economic risks to developers.
"The key to the economic success of conservation subdivisions is to build enough units to compensate for the substantial fixed costs, reducing the overall cost per unit."
It goes on to state that means higher density in some areas in return for no density in others.
The report also describes potential pitfalls of conservation development stating that residents remain dependent on cars and some conservation developments require group parking and walking to the house, surrounding subdivisions may not be conservation developments and the price of houses may be higher in these subdivisions.
"This is a valid criticism ... homes in conservation subdivisions often garner premium sale prices compared to typical homes," the report states. "The issue is addressed in some ordinances that give bonuses to developers that provide affordable housing within conservation subdivisions."
Andrew Allemand, Killeen's interim planning director, said developers can build a conservation subdivision without an ordinance. An ordinance would define specific way a conservation subdivision must be built with a set of standards and provide for kickbacks, as aforementioned, to developers.
Councilman Larry Cole, chair of the Land Use/Development Committee, said the presentation was called for information purposes so the city, developers and residents could consider it an option.
"Don't expect a new ordinance," Cole said.
The attendees included some Killeen City Council members, Planning & Zoning Commission and Land Use/Development Committee members. The crowd also included city staff, developers and area residents.
Contact Kevin M. Smith at email@example.com or call (254) 501-7550