A consultant working to put together a new comprehensive plan to guide Killeen’s future questioned city elected leaders’ commitment to such a plan, and pleaded with them to have the “political will” to get things done.
Dallas-based consulting company Verdunity led a special joint meeting that included attendance from members of the Killeen City Council and the Planning and Zoning Commission on Wednesday night in the city’s Utility Collections Conference Room on Avenue C.
The purpose of the meeting was to update the council and the planning and zoning commission on the city’s 2021 comprehensive plan, which is a $349,140 plan designed to manage the city’s growth, reinvigorate Killeen’s downtown and overhaul the city’s infrastructure. The plan is being developed now, and is set for council approval later this year.
The comprehensive plan is preceded by a similar plan in 2010, and another several years later that specifically targeted downtown Killeen. Both plans have been shelved until this year, a fact that was not lost on Verdunity Founder and CEO Kevin Shepherd.
“The bottom line here is that the 2010 plan was not a bad plan; the downtown revitalization plan was not a bad plan; the fact is that past councils have not had the political will to get things done,” Shepherd said.
Shepherd began Wednesday night’s discussion by asking a simple question.
“Whenever I hear about Killeen, I hear ‘don’t go there.’ And when we did our walkshops, one of the themes was ‘it’s nice, but not somewhere I’d want to grow up,’” Shepherd said.
The three most important aspects of Killeen that people want are “better housing options”, “more parks and open spaces” and “youth and family entertainment,” according to Shepherd.
Shepherd said there were two important elements for success: strong guiding principles and a shared vision.
“It’s very important to have everyone on the same page for decision making, otherwise we get bogged down with each council member’s specific needs and wants,” Shepherd said. “So what is everyone’s particular guiding principle?”
Attending council members included Mayor Pro Tem Debbie Nash-King, Melissa Brown, Michael Boyd, Nina Cobb and Jessica Gonzalez, Mayor Jose Segarra also attended.
Speaking frankly, Segarra admitted that one of the issues facing the council was politics.
“For a lot of people, we start moving on these things but when it comes to election time, sometimes we lack the will to really get it done,” Segarra said.
Councilwoman Melissa Brown took a different approach.
“What is most important for me is our constituents’ needs. Parks are great, but there’s no point if there are no roads to get you there,” Brown said.
Similarly, Councilman Michael Boyd argued that what was most important are demands.
“We should make decisions based on what our people are demanding, or asking for. It’s about listening,” Boyd said.
And for Nash-King, the budget is the ultimate decider, she said.
“You’ve got to take what you have and make it work. If you don’t have the money for a $14 million plan, then it’s not going to happen,” she said.
Shepherd took that opportunity to discuss the current budget.
“When I see a budget that only has $3,500 dedicated for downtown events, and a city council that is telling me they want to revitalize their downtown, I’m not really sure what to think,” he said. “So that’s why I’m questioning where your priorities are.”
Shepherd then moved the discussion to guiding principles and areas of focus.
Brown was quick to mention the need for community identity and a town square, to which Shepherd and many other council members voiced their agreement.
Among other areas of improvement were updates to development code and infrastructure standards, to which there was a strongly voiced agreement from the planning and zoning commission, growth management, and downtown activation.
“I’ll be honest; your development standards are some of the worst I’ve seen in the past 10 years,” Shepherd said.
According to Shepherd, Killeen’s population exploded in the 1960s and 1970s and expanded tenfold, but its population density dropped from six people per square acre in 1950 to just over three people in 1990.
Shepherd explained that this makes it difficult for the city to operate since it has the same income base, but increased utilities and maintenance cost.
“Another element to consider is your veteran property tax exemption, which is probably the highest in the country. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, but you need to consider that you don’t have that revenue when you expand,” Shepherd said.
Another issue is what Shepherd calls “move-up housing.”
“Killeen has plenty of executive-type, ‘move-up housing,’ but no real middle ground for people that want to downsize,” Shepherd said.
“What’s more, stores follow people. If you invest in your downtown and areas where people already live, the businesses will come,” he said.
Shepherd also exhorted both the council and Killeen residents to reach out to one another.
“The council is paying a lot of money to hire us, and we just really want to make sure that the city has the political will to follow through,” Shepherd said.
This meeting concluded Phase 1 of the Verdunity partnership with the city. The next step, according to Shepherd, is to work with additional planning groups to coalesce its information and provide a full business plan in another joint meeting, scheduled for August.
In the meantime, the City Council will be forced to make some tough decisions regarding investment and will likely revisit the proposed budget regarding downtown.