Harker Heights doesn’t have a true Main Street.
That’s not really so surprising, since the city is little more than 50 years old, having been incorporated in 1960. Consequently, there hasn’t been much time for a traditional “Main Street” to spring up.
The city’s original city center was in the area of Beeline Drive and Ann Boulevard, where the city’s library and municipal offices were located for several years.
But in the late 1990s, city leaders moved forward with plans to relocate the city’s “center” southeastward, to a parcel of land off Farm-to-Market 2410, just south of U.S. Highway 190. The city spent $150,000 on the 40-acre parcel, dedicating 35 acres to what would become Carl Levin Park and 5 acres for a new city hall and recreation center.
With the relocation, the area around FM 2410 and Central Texas Expressway became a hub of activity. It became even more of a focal point after a Walmart Supercenter opened just west of the intersection in April 2005. Since then, the opening of the 15-acre Market Heights shopping center across U.S. 190 and Seton Medical Center Harker Heights just west along CTE have firmly established the area as the high-traffic section of the city.
The logical outgrowth of all this has been the rapid development southward along FM 2410, also known as Knight’s Way. Starting with the widening of the roadway to five lanes in 2006, the explosion of commercial and residential development along its path has been eye-opening.
With continued expansion in mind, city officials recently considered the creation of an overlay district — which would specify site design and aesthetic standards for both developed and undeveloped land in a 2.4-mile stretch from U.S. 190 to Warrior’s Path. Signage, landscaping and designation of parking areas also would come under the district’s purview.
The purpose of all this, city planning director Fred Morris said, is to add character to the area, giving it the appearance of a city hub, rather than just a thoroughfare.
Morris asked council members to answer several questions regarding a proposed overlay district. Some of the questions are, what would the building setback requirements be, where would parking be located and how would signage be regulated?
The next steps, Morris said, would be to write a draft of a design guideline manual, followed by the gathering of public input, before crafting the overlay ordinance.
City Manager Steve Carpenter said the latest action is the culmination of several months of discussions among city staff, city planners and council members regarding issues of importance to the city. Residents were then asked for their input, and the top item was determining a compatible mixture of commercial and residential development.
Carpenter noted that the property along FM 2410 is already zoned. Therefore, the need for compatible land use is at a premium, moving forward.
The city has had varying degrees of success in outlining design and development standards in recent years. For example, the enactment of a 2008 facade ordinance has resulted in several appealing structures in the vicinity of FM 2410 and CTE that incorporated rock, stucco and architectural glass into the exteriors. However, the city’s ordinances failed to keep developers from producing a cluttered grouping of restaurants and automotive businesses along CTE in front of Carl Levin Park — creating an unappealing aesthetic and blocking the view of the park.
Looking ahead, it’s vital that the city ensure the area along FM 2410 is developed in a way that is not just visually appealing, but also compatible with the surrounding neighborhoods. Proper screening and site design for commercial properties will play a large part.
Carpenter said the key is sustainability. Given the city’s physical boundaries, he said, the city’s maximum population will be around 45,000 to 50,000. In order to maintain a positive dynamic, the city must have nice neighborhoods, quality commercial areas and good parks — all worthwhile objectives. A sensible, comprehensive overlay district plan can go a long way toward achieving those objectives, at least in this one portion of town. And while several council members have proposed taking an incremental approach, it’s important that such a district be created as soon as possible.
Council members will start the process at an upcoming retreat. Striking the right balance — to both regulate, yet encourage development — will be the key to the district’s effectiveness. When it’s all said and done, Harker Heights still may not have a true “Main Street,” but it will have a main thoroughfare it can be proud of for years to come.