Killeen’s footprint is about to change significantly — once again.

With the City Council’s approval last week of a 216-unit apartment complex just west of Rosewood Drive, the city has set in motion a development that will eliminate the last sizable stretch of open land along I-14.

Area residents should be used to seeing their city’s landmarks change. Such is progress, after all.

But this project has potential to make a larger impact — at least on the immediate area.

The three-story apartment complex and clubhouse will sit on 16 acres, but it will abut 15 acres of green space with trail connectivity, a city memo stated.

So instead of being part of a high-density development typically associated with a large apartment complex, the multifamily residential development will actually produce a lower-density housing area than would a standard single-family development.

But the apartment complex project is only one portion of the overall development.

Earlier this year, the planning and zoning commission approved a commercial plat for 46 acres of property along the east and west Rosewood frontage. Along with the apartment complex and green space portion, the commercially zoned parcel will be part of a 103-acre planned unit development the city is characterizing as a “gateway project,” as it will serve as an entry point to the city off I-14.

City planner Tony McIlwain earlier this year described the project as an “upper scale development,” although it’s still not certain what kind of housing will be offered in the eastern portion of the development.

As with so many other large-scale developments in the city, increased traffic is a consideration.

City planners estimate the apartment complex alone would generate in excess of 1,400 additional car trips daily — a number that caused some council members concern at last week’s meeting — especially after one resident aired concerns regarding the current traffic issues along “Rosewood Raceway.”

No doubt, adding a large development close to an already-busy intersection could be problematic, but developers must work with city traffic engineers to minimize concerns for both motorists and nearby residents.

Naturally, a proactive approach to development is always preferable, but it hasn’t always been the case of late.

The area around the new Walmart in southwest Killeen is growing quickly, but putting up a stoplight at Bunny Trail and Clear Creek Road didn’t go far enough to solve traffic congestion in the area. Residential and commercial growth have led to traffic backups that could have been avoided if the subdivision has been designed with more entry and egress points.

Now the city is looking at a new 179-home subdivision that may provide a thru-street that could ease the traffic burden, but the question remains as to who will pay for its construction.

The same situation emerged in Harker Heights after the 2008 opening of the Market Heights, a 650,000-square-foot shopping center. Vehicles using the drive into the back side of the complex on Farm-to-Market 2410 were sometimes backed up two to three blocks, tieing up traffic. Subsequently, a left-turn median was constructed, which eased the backup. Now the city and the Texas Department of Public Transportation are widening the roadway in the immediate area in response to heavy traffic.

While it’s not always easy to foresee how a zoning or permitting decision will affect a city long-term, it is possible to assess projects based on how well they mesh with a city’s future land-use maps and long-range planning documents.

For example, authorizing a commercial development in an area already zoned commercial is somewhat expected, but making exceptions to land-use maps in order to accommodate a commercial project can have repercussions — particularly if the project is in close proximity to a residential area or creates excessive traffic.

When this happens repeatedly, not only is the value of the land-use map called into question, but the city’s aesthetics can suffer. Such is the case along scenic Texas Highway 195 — another of Killeen’s “gateways” — where zoning exceptions have allowed commercial development to encroach upon the dedicated University and Cemetery districts.

It’s a delicate balance: Trying to grow the city’s residential and commercial tax base while maintaining the integrity of long-range planning documents.

Ultimately, it comes down to what residents want their city to look like — both to those entering the city limits and to those who live within its boundaries.

And it comes down to city planners and elected representatives who are willing to listen to residents’ feedback.

Yes, Killeen’s employment opportunities, its school system and its crime rate are all factors in attracting and keeping residents. But as countless studies have shown, a community’s aesthetics are a vital component as well.

In that respect, Killeen and its elected leaders have a long way to go.

Too many subdivisions, especially newer ones, are comprised of cookie-cutter homes on small lots with no nearby recreational opportunities or other amenities.

Far too often, new housing areas are erected on land that has been scraped bare of native trees and shrubs. Years later, these sections of town are largely unchanged — and largely uninviting.

Though Killeen has well-appointed and highly popular parks in Lions Club Park and Long Branch Park, it lacks a significant number of smaller parks to the serve the needs of individual neighborhoods.

To that end, the introduction of a project that contains 15 acres of green space and walking trails is a definite step in the right direction for the city.

Let’s hope this development provides the impetus for similar, varied developments that take aesthetics and amenities into consideration.

Our community’s residents deserve no less — and they should say so.

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