Killeen is at a crossroads.

The city is looking to update its comprehensive plan — and how that plan evolves will go a long way toward shaping future growth and development.

Quality of life should be a key consideration, and residents must weigh in on what they want to see in their city.

Are more parks and trees at the top of the priority list? Does the city need more swimming pools and recreation areas? What should future residential and commercial developments look like?

The new planning initiative should give Killeen residents the opportunity to speak up on these issues — and it’s an opportunity that must not be squandered.

When Killeen adopted the existing plan in 2010, it was the first time the city had a master plan consolidating the plans for transportation, water-sewer and drainage. It also contained guidelines for residential and commercial growth over a 20-year period.

The master plan was developed to better sync planned growth and city infrastructure. Coupled with the future land use map, or FLUM, the plan was designed to give the city a solid framework for moving into the future — an improvement over the somewhat haphazard development during the city’s major growth spurt in the mid-2000s.

Now, City Manager Ron Olson is proposing hiring a senior planner and principal secretary to the city’s planning department in an effort to update the plan.

That’s a sound strategy, as economic and population factors have changed significantly since the first plan was adopted.

But as the city moves forward with the project, it’s important that residents make their voices heard, as they did during community engagement meetings prior to the current plan’s adoption.

Unfortunately, Killeen residents may feel that no one is listening.

Many are still stinging from the recent announcement — made after an agreement was signed — that the city’s economic development corporation was bringing a chemical plant to the city’s industrial park.

The secretive nature of the negotiations, in which even City Council members were left in the dark, had some residents feeling distrustful and disenfranchised.

Moreover, the city’s track record on development has been somewhat spotty in recent years.

The council has consistently approved exceptions to the land-use map, authorizing special-use permits and variances to make developments “fit” the existing map. This has especially been the case in the area near the Central Texas State Veterans Cemetery and Texas A&M University-Central Texas, with the cemetery and college district designations, respectively.

The city also has declined to mandate park land or green space within large residential developments, resulting in tightly packed subdivisions dominated by concrete and rooftops — especially in southwest Killeen.

In addition, these weak subdivision regulations don’t dictate the depth of side lots and offer no guidance on parking areas and sidewalks.

Taken in combination with developers’ emphasis on affordable single-family homes, large areas of the city have taken on a tan, homogenous appearance that is lacking in housing diversity and aesthetic appeal.

In fact, Olson mentioned the lack of higher-end housing when he visited the city for his job interview early this year

Is this what we want Killeen to look like 20 or 30 years from now?

And if not, what can be done to change the trajectory the city is on?

An important first step is producing a comprehensive plan that envisions intentional, orderly growth while putting a premium on aesthetics. While little can be done about retrofitting densely developed areas with green space and recreational amenities, planners can start incorporating these features as requirements for new developments.

Local developers have consistently made the argument that requiring large residential lots, bigger side lots, architectural features and specified foliage would drive up the cost of homes to the point where they would be out of the reach of prospective military homebuyers.

However, absent of those requirements, the tendency has been to build the most houses possible on a given tract, maximizing profit. Unfortunately, when those homes subsequently go up for sale, they often sit on the market — and eventually some become rental property, which tends to depress surrounding home values.

Pairing new, stringent building standards with a new comprehensive plan would have the effect of raising the quality of development — and consequently, the quality of life — as the city moves forward.

It’s up to residents to demand such standards, and to demand the ordinances to back them up.

The council also should take back final authority in the platting process, a power it ceded to the planning and zoning commission in 2012. Council members tabled a decision on retaking that authority in April, but it’s time for action on the issue.

While state law requires the city to approve all plats that meet subdivision guidelines, the introduction of a new comprehensive plan would provide the opportunity to strengthen those guidelines and enforce them moving forward.

It’s also important that the city collaborate with developers to ensure that they are working toward a common goal: building commercial and residential neighborhoods that are both commercially viable and aesthetically pleasing.

But again, it all starts with the public’s input. Unless residents demand higher standards and a more cohesive plan for growth, it’s unlikely that the city’s development will change course dramatically.

For that to happen, residents must get involved.

Learn the city’s zoning designations and regulations, and be ready to provide public input on the new comprehensive plan when the opportunity arises.

In the meantime, call the city manager’s office and talk to your council members. Tell them what you like about the city and what you don’t — and what you would do to change things.

It’s our city — and it’s time to take ownership.

dmiller@kdhnews.com | 254-501-7543

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