The Killeen City Council last week endorsed two changes to the city’s operating procedures that should enhance the city’s efficiency and another change that will benefit voters.
All three are to be commended, but with some reservations.
Perhaps the biggest change is the removal of a requirement that restaurants opening in Killeen have to be approved for a specific RC-1 zoning designation before they can sell alcohol. Under the newly approved guidelines, any restaurant that goes in under the city’s B-3 zoning classification will be automatically approved for alcohol sales.
Removing the extra step puts Killeen in line with other area cities — chiefly Harker Heights — and eliminates what the city’s planning director sees as a potential sticking point with developers. Indeed, it’s not unreasonable that having to make a second permit request could cause some prospective businesses to look elsewhere to set up shop.
Switching to a one-step permit process will not only balance the playing field in recruiting dining establishments, but it will speed up the turnaround time on future restaurant construction projects.
There are no doubt some who would say the current RC-1 permit mandate has served the city well, so why change it? But the city’s planning director noted that the city has approved 19 of the 20 RC-1 permit requests received over the past few years. The other request was withdrawn. So, if approval is so automatic, why have the extra step in the first place?
The second change the council endorsed last week was to give the planning and zoning commission authority to approve property plats — currently something that also requires council approval.
The new process is in accordance with state law, which grants a planning commission oversight over platting unless the city ordinance states otherwise. It also stipulates that a plat that meets a city’s minimum established standards must be granted approval.
Removing the council from the platting equation will both streamline the development process and shorten council meeting agendas.
Of course, the change to one-step approval is not without its critics. One council member said the current system gives the council a chance “to see what’s going on” and keeps council members engaged. Another councilman said the redundancy is beneficial for fact-checking.
In surveying other local communities, the platting process is anything but uniform. In Harker Heights, the council always reviews the plat request first, then sends it to the planning commission before seeing it again for final approval. In Copperas Cove, the council only reviews larger requests; the rest are handled by planning and zoning.
Given the volume of requests in Killeen, handing the platting duties over to P&Z may be the best route to take. Still, moving forward, it would be both informative and instructive if the planning commission can give the council regular updates on plat approvals.
In the final change authorized by the council last week, members agreed to add a third early-voting site for the city’s May municipal election.
The addition of a polling site at Lions Club Park is a much-needed accommodation for residents in the southern portion of Killeen. The city’s two current early-voting sites at Killeen City Hall and the Killeen Community Center are just a few miles apart, and neither is south of Veterans Memorial Boulevard.
But having three sites is only temporary. After this election, the city will no longer offer early voting at City Hall, with officials citing voter turnout there.
Indeed, it would be hard to argue the need for three polling sites, since the record for early voting in Killeen is only 2,086, recorded in 2012. That’s just over 200 votes a day — easily accommodated by two locations.
Still, if unusually heavy turnout forced officials to consider keeping a third location in play, it would be a pleasant problem to have.
Streamlining any process is generally a worthwhile goal, but it’s important to be mindful that it can sometimes come at a cost.