The concept behind Killeen’s “cemetery district” zoning designation is laudable, but putting the zoning into effect is proving to be problematic.
That was in evidence last week when the Killeen City Council approved a commercial development that included several businesses that would have been prohibited under the zoning designation, but were allowed with the help of a conditional-use permit.
The Cemetery Overlay District, created by the council in 2006 and amended in July, is intended to preserve the integrity of the area surrounding the Central Texas State Veterans Cemetery, along State Highway 195.
Under the terms of the zoning designation, only businesses specified in the charter’s “use regulations” section are eligible to locate within the district. That’s logical, since the intent of the zoning is to restrict businesses that would be seen as incompatible with the nearby cemetery.
But while the list of acceptable businesses is fairly exhaustive, it’s also restrictive.
For example, the zoning designation allows professional office buildings, bakeries, barbershops, florists and hotels or motels.
However, the district’s zoning does not permit banks or grocery stores.
The zoning permits physicians’ offices, but it does not allow veterinary clinics. Drug stores are permitted, but dry cleaners are not.
What is and isn’t allowable under the cemetery district guidelines seems a bit arbitrary, and indeed, Killeen’s city planner conceded that “it’s not an exact science.”
But after last week’s council vote, it’s apparent that the list isn’t set in stone, especially when conditional-use permits are employed.
The permit approved Tuesday will allow a host of businesses not authorized under the original zoning classification, including a grocery store, animal clinic, personal service shops, banks, photography studios and gasoline service stations — even though the developer so far has secured only a gas station and convenience store for a proposed 17,000-square-foot building.
The council did, however, approve stipulations barring liquor stores, car lots, pawn shops and large commercial laundry facilities.
But during a public hearing on the issue, several residents complained that some of the proposed businesses will not be appropriate for the area.
Of course, that raises the question of what exactly is “appropriate.”
Apparently, the list found in the city’s code of ordinances is simply a starting point. Council members must be free to determine whether other types of commercial development belong on the list, and amend the zoning regulations accordingly going forward.
But it would be a mistake to continue to sidestep the current zoning restrictions through the use of conditional-use permits, every time a developer makes a compelling pitch. To do so only serves to water down the code’s language and ignore its intent.
As it is, every development currently in the Cemetery District Overlay has a conditional-use permit, as the city planner acknowledged. If that’s the case, why even bother with the cemetery district in the first place?
With the southern approach to Killeen along State Highway 195 being the last undeveloped entry way into the city, it is imperative that council members choose carefully when granting exceptions to existing zoning standards. The kinds of developments that spring up along the highway will go a long way toward projecting the city’s image to visitors.
That said, it’s also important that residents in the newer neighborhoods along State Highway 195 have access to amenities such as banking and grocery shopping within reasonably close proximity. The key, as with many issues involving municipal growth and aesthetics, is to strike a balance that is best for the city.
With that in mind, council members must revisit the city’s long-term planning tools, such as the Comprehensive Plan and Cemetery Overlay District with an eye to the future.
Either the Comprehensive Plan is a document to be closely followed in creating planned and orderly growth as Killeen moves into the next decade, or it’s simply a compilation of suggested guidelines to be adjusted as development opportunities arise.
It’s not a simple issue. But it’s one that simply must be addressed — and soon.